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Know the West

Arizona Rep. Grijalva targets extremism on public lands

Dozens of high-profile former federal employees sign a letter urging Congress to address Sagebrush Insurgency threats.


“There is a war simmering in this country, centered in the West,” said Richard Cohen, head of the liberal advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center, in a House Democratic forum hosted by members of the House Natural Resources and Homeland Security Committees this week. Cohen was referring to the increase in incidents of violence and intimidation targeting federal land agencies. The 41-day armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada in 2014 are just two of the most visible battles in this “war” that High Country News has chronicled in-depth.

The forum took place on June 15 and was put on by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi. To support the congressmen’s efforts to address extremism, 32 former federal employees — including former heads of the U.S. Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, among others — also recently signed a letter urging Congress to act, marking what may be the first time so many high-profile former federal employees have spoken in concert against the threat to public lands and federal land employees, posed by the self-described Patriot movement.

Ann Morgan, former head of Colorado and Nevada BLM offices, penned the missive. She originally intended it to be just a personal letter, but quickly got a host of other folks on board. "It seemed to strike a chord for people who had worked in the field," she says.

“I think it’s a much broader overall anti-government feeling that’s out there,” Morgan says. “A lot of it has nothing to do with natural resources.” Indeed, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has shown minimal interest in public land management, even commented to Fox News on the Cliven Bundy incident when it happened in 2014: “I like (Bundy), I like his spirit, his spunk and I like the people that — you know, they're so loyal...”

Tay Wiles is the deputy editor - digital for High Country News and is based in Paonia, Colorado.