Their venture couldn’t have ended much worse.
Ammon Bundy and 10 of his cohorts are now jailed and facing federal indictments following occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier last month. Another of their group is dead, killed by federal agents who say he was going for a gun. No matter what authorities say — Robert “LaVoy” Finicum is now a martyr for the cause.
Four more protestors remain holed up at the refuge headquarters, demanding that they be allowed to walk away clean. According to one Associated Press story this week, one of them, 27-year-old David Fry of Ohio, said he and the others are: “… waiting for some kind of miracle to happen.”
And now, in response to unspecified concerns, more security officers are being dispatched to wildlife refuges in Klamath Basin, Ash Meadows in Nevada and the Modoc refuge in northern California.
"No specific threats or incidents have occurred, but we remain vigilant to ensure employee and visitor safety throughout the region," Jody Holzworth, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This can’t be the outcome that Bundy and his supporters had hoped for when they drove onto the refuge Jan. 2 with their guns and their demands. The occupation was woefully ill-prepared and quickly became a pathetic display of poor planning and disorganization.
The result was that the group’s message, to protest federal management of vast expanses of land in Western states, was lost in an atmosphere of tragic opera. The characters — Bundy, Finicum and the others — became the story, not their cause.
Federal land management is a serious issue, and it’s not a simple one. It involves basic questions about who owns the land and what is proper stewardship. Who defines highest and best use of land? Can those definitions change from generation to generation?
The answers involve not just economic considerations, but issues of culture and traditional use. There needs to be a balance struck between stakeholders, all of whom want different things from the same resource.
But those answers won’t come from the business end of a weapon. Tragically, that’s the lesson Bundy and his group ended up giving us when they carried guns onto the refuge.