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Know the West

Stirring up the dangerous fringe


I would like to thank High Country News for Defuse the West (10/27/14). I retired after serving for 30 years with both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and can attest to the ugliness that has crept into the public discourse regarding public lands and forests. I have been on the receiving end of a few threatening situations myself over the years.

While most of the public understands the need to protect the land, there have always been those who have no regard for the law. When one law enforcement officer covers tens of thousands of acres alone, and the lawless individual that is finally apprehended receives a minor fine from a federal judge who is overwhelmed with more important cases, it can be downright discouraging.

Politicians — especially conservative — have used the federal land-management agencies as a political football for several decades now. These politicians have often played budget games with the health and safety of dedicated people. Through political sabotage that included shutting down the government, they have stirred up the passions of their fringe constituents.

They have created a dangerous atmosphere with very real consequences. Add to this the poison spewed out from the Internet bubble and any radio station within the rural markets that federal land-management employees serve in, and you get a toxic atmosphere of mistrust and even hatred. Even local county government has been the target of this hatred. In spite of the right wing’s complaints to the contrary, it is interesting to note the absence of any constituency when it comes to defending our federal employees.

What is strange about this situation is that the federal employee is often a “local,” a member of the community, and has often been born and raised in the area he or she serves. These employees know the land and people there as well as anyone.

It is clear that the time has come for the issue of the safety of those we ask to protect our land and forests to be a priority. As the Cliven Bundy fiasco illustrated, armed insurgents taking independent action on federal land under a manufactured pretense in the future is a distinct possibility. Therefore, it would be wise for any local elected official to be careful about taking advantage of this situation of mistrust, because in the eyes of those who harbor an irrational paranoia of government, you’re next.

Mike Benefield
Terrebonne, Oregon