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Oregon Ranchers vs the Federal Government
March 6, 2018
by Peter van Agtmael
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon was the site of protests in 2016 after two cowboys were sentenced to prison for arson. Ammon Bundy, a rancher from Nevada, lead 300 demonstrators opposed to federal ownership of public lands through the town of Burns and a splinter group occupied the Malheur refuge’s headquarters for 41 days. One of the occupiers was shot and killed by government agents during an incident at an FBI roadblock.

Since then, right-wing populists who demand transfer of federal lands to local control have been present at agricultural events and active in voicing their concerns. They claim the Endangered Species Act is a government conspiracy to move cowboys off their ranches. Though self-proclaimed environmentalists, few agree with the notion of global warming.

Joe Cronin, whose home ranch is outside of Burns, Oregon, grazes his cattle on 320 acres of land he owns in Malheur National Forest. Every year he must seek the forest service’s approval to let his cattle roam the land. A few years ago he’d been told by the Fish and Wildlife Service that his herd was endangering fish who spawn in a creek beside a pasture he relies on, but an analysis he’d requested from the University of Oregon suggested otherwise. Cronin said that he’d not received a response from the federal authorities after he forwarded the analysis to them, which added to his distrust.

Peter van Agtmael traveled to eastern Oregon and documented the story for The New York Times Magazine.

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