Backcountry Hunters & Anglers reacted strongly to the news of the acquittal of the Bundy brothers and others in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
By now, everyone probably knows that Ammon and Ryan Bundy, as well as five others, were acquitted of charges stemming from their takeover of a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers wasted no time in expressing their disapproval. The conservation and pro-public land access organization issued a statement declaring that they are "profoundly disappointed" with the decision.
In full, the statement issued by BHA President Land Tawney reads:
On behalf of the American sportsmen who pay for and help maintain our national wildlife refuges, we are profoundly disappointed in the jury's decision. It shows we have a lot to do to educate the American people about our public lands - and that we must continue to be vigilant in the face of ongoing attempts to seize, transfer or otherwise divest them from their owners, the citizens of the United States.
The jury's decision flies in the face of the basic principle that America's national wildlife refuges and other public lands belong to all Americans. We, the rightful owners of these lands, can - and should - debate their management. But threatening public servants, hijacking public lands and damaging our shared natural resources serve no beneficial purpose and have no place in a democracy like ours.
The Bundys and other defendants in the case were tried on federal conspiracy and weapons charges in Federal District Court in Portland, Oregon. The month-long trial ended in a verdict that surprised prosecutors and many others.
The defendants never denied that they occupied the building on the Reserve, but the government apparently failed to prove that they used force and threats of violence to do so.
For the BHA, though, the underlying issue is deeper than the occupation of the Malheur Reserve. BHA contends that the Bundys and their supporters are attempting to hijack and claim ownership of public lands, lands owned and used by all Americans, for their own selfish purposes.
BHA member Mark Heckert opined,
These lands are not 'revenue streams' or playgrounds for the wealthy; they are treasures bequeathed to all of us by our far-thinking ancestors and a priceless inheritance for our descendants. They speak to us across time - of real value, and the heart-filling wonder of wildness. We must stand, and stand together. These thieves covet our public lands, and if we don't want them more, they will be stolen from under our feet.
Heckert echoes what many sportsmen and women feel: that public lands should remain open to the public.
Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, also shared her disappointment with the verdict. "The occupation of the Malheur Reserve did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences," she said.
But there is some disagreement among those commenting on the BHA facebook post concerning the verdict and BHA's response to the acquittal. Some are supporting the Bundys' protest, but more see them as selfish ne'er-do-wells who have subverted the law.
Tawney's statement - "It shows we have a lot to do to educate the American people about our public lands" - never rang more true.
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