Why Are Federal Lands So Wildly Controversial in the West?

UNITED STATES

On Saturday, a group of about 20 armed protesters occupied the headquarters of a National Wildlife Refuge in rural eastern Oregon. Federal ownership of land in the western United States has triggered such conflicts for decades. Why? (Nat Geo News)

Use our Oregon Tabletop Map to identify Burns, Malheur Lake, and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, above, has been illegally occupied by anti-government protesters for four days. Photograph by Cacophony, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

The headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, above, has been illegally occupied by anti-government protesters for four days.
Photograph by Cacophony, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

Discussion Ideas

  • Protesters have occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. What is a wildlife refuge?
    • Wildlife refuges are public lands and waters set aside to conserve  fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States.

 

  • The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is operated by the federal government. What does this mean?
    • It means an agency of the national government, not state or local authorities, determine most policies on the land. The federal agency that controls wildlife refuges is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Why was the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge established? Read through the fantastic Nat Geo article for some help.
    • The refuge in eastern Oregon was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect waterfowl, such as ducks and ibises, many of which were being wiped out for the feather trade.

 

Federal lands comprise nearly one third of the U.S. land mass, a ratio that is even higher in the American West and Alaska. Map by National Geographic

Federal lands comprise nearly a third of the U.S. land mass, a ratio that is even higher in the American West and Alaska.
Map by National Geographic

  • The conflict in Oregon is part of a longstanding controversy about land use in the American West. Why do you think this debate is mostly limited to the western part of the country? Take a look at the great Nat Geo map above for some help.
    • The federal government controls much, much more land in the West than the East. According to Nat Geo, only “ten [Eastern] states have less than two percent of land controlled by the federal government. In contrast, 84.5 percent of land in Nevada is controlled by the feds. Oregon is 53.1 percent federal controlled. Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, and California aren’t far behind, and Utah is even higher at 57.4 percent.”

 

  • Why do some people object to federal control of land?
    • According to Nat Geo, “In Facebook messages, the protesters say they want the federal government to turn over management of lands to local control. [Standoff leader] Ryan Bundy told the AP that they would like to see more land used ‘for ranching, logging, mining and recreation’ and free of federal oversight.”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Why Federal Lands Are So Wildly Controversial in the West

Nat Geo: Oregon Tabletop Map

Nat Geo: What is ranching?

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Find a Refuge by Zip Code

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