Activists protesting federal land mismanagement and the imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond recently occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building in Oregon. Some facts, context and perspective may help people understand what’s really going on here.

At its core, this is about the often callous, iron-fisted hand of the federal government being slammed down on American citizens. Examples abound – from the IRS targeting 200 conservative groups, to the seizure of cars and bank accounts of innocent business owners, to heavily armed Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) agents bursting into Gibson Guitar facilities over phony exotic wood violations, to EPA destroying tens of thousands of coal industry jobs to “prevent climate chaos.” Making these outrages even more intolerable, those responsible are almost never held accountable, much less liable for damages.

Problems like these can become exponentially worse for people in one of the twelve western states where the federal government controls 30% (Montana), 49% (Oregon) or even 85% (Nevada and Alaska) of all the land. These government lands total 640 million acres: 28% of the entire 2.27-billion-acre United States.

Though they are often, incorrectly called “public” lands, the “public” has no fundamental right to enter them or utilize their water and other resources. They are federal government reservations, administered and controlled by agencies that increasingly want economic, motorized and many other activities prohibited and eliminated – under laws interpreted, implemented and imposed by officials in the FWS, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Park Service and other federal agencies.

The feds also exercise effective, often punitive control over millions of acres of state and private lands located next to or in the midst of these government fiefdoms. People living in those areas rely on the federal reserves for forage, water, timber, energy, mineral and other resources that are increasingly made off-limits, on the ground that “beneficial uses” might impact wildlife, scenic or environmental values.

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