The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Bundy Trial Dismissed: ‘A Sad Day for America’s Public Lands’
By John Dougherty
Shock, disappointment and warnings of potential for more armed standoffs over U.S. public lands were among the reactions Monday from two academic experts and a former Oregon county judge to a federal judge's order dismissing the government's criminal charges against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a fourth man linked to militia groups.
"This is a very sad day for America's public lands," said Peter Walker, a University of Oregon geography professor who studies the social and political environmental aspects of the American West and is writing a book on the Bundy family's conflicts with the federal government.
"Even though this was a procedural decision based on mistakes made by the prosecution, the Bundy family and their supporters will spin it as validation of their ideology," said Walker.
The Revelator published an investigative report in November detailing the Bundy family's far-right Mormon extremism in the family's effort to instigate an armed rebellion to force the federal government off public lands in the West.
On Monday U.S. District Court Judge Gloria M. Navarro dismissed the case against the men in a ruling from the bench in her Las Vegas courtroom. The decision could be appealed by prosecutors. But they would only be able to bring charges again if they won the appeal and the ruling was reversed—and they then got a new indictment from a new grand jury, the New York Times reported.
The four defendants—Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and militia leader Ryan Payne—were charged with threatening a federal officer, carrying and using a firearm, and engaging in conspiracy stemming from a 2014 showdown with federal officers near Bunkerville, Nevada. The government was attempting to remove patriarch Cliven Bundy's cattle from federal land after more than 20 years of trespassing and failing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees.
Hundreds of Bundy supporters rallied to their call for assistance, many of them armed. Several Bundy supporters pointed high-powered rifles at federal law-enforcement officers who were trying to execute a court order to remove the trespassing cattle from U.S. Bureau of Land Management property northeast of Las Vegas. The government withdrew from the armed confrontation.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with Ryan Payne, later led an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Oregon in January 2016. The armed standoff eventually ended but only after the group's spokesman, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by police after appearing to be reaching for a gun.
Cliven Bundy wasted no time in declaring victory after Navarro's ruling Monday as he walked out of the courtroom a free man for the first time in 700 days.
"My defense is a 15-second defense: I graze my cattle only on Clark County, Nev., land and I have no contract with the federal government," he said according to the Los Angeles Times. "This court has no jurisdiction or authority over this matter. And I've put up with this court in America as a political prisoner for two years."
Bundy's claims were never put to a test in the courtroom because Judge Navarro ruled the prosecution's failure to share evidence with the defense made it impossible for the defendants to receive a fair trial.
Walker said the Bundy religious ideology is drawn from fringe Mormon theologians including W. Cleon Skousen, as well as mainstream church leaders including former Mormon Church President Ezra Taft Benson, who was agriculture secretary in the Eisenhower administration.
The Bundy family, said Walker, believes the U.S. Constitution does not allow the federal government to own land outside of Washington DC and, that under the Second Amendment, citizens have an obligation to force the federal government off public land.
"This court decision will cause every person who agrees with the Bundy ideology to believe they can threaten federal employees on public land with firearms and pay no cost," Walker said. "Every hardworking federal employee on federal public lands now has a huge target painted on their back."
In Burns, Ore., former Harney County Judge Steve Grasty told The Revelator he is "very disappointed" that the case ended before it was presented to a jury. Grasty tangled with Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Ryan Payne when the men led the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County in January 2016.
Grasty said the Bundy family's efforts to trigger an armed insurrection against the federal government in Harney County was a terrorist act that drew overwhelming opposition from most of the rural, ranching community.
"No matter what the outcome of the trial was, I think it would have been beneficial, even to the Bundys, to have gotten all the way through the trial and have all the evidence out in front … and have jurors make a decision," Grasty said.
Betsy Gaines Quammen, an expert on the impact of Mormonism and public lands, said the court ruling "will glorify Cliven Bundy" in the minds of his followers.
"It could well convince his supporters that the Bundy family stands in God's favor," she said. "He has always said that he was waging a religious war and with that rationale, this mistrial makes it appear as if Bundy has heavenly approval."
Quammen wrote a doctoral thesis at Montana State University entitled American Zion: Mormon Perspectives on Landscape, from Zion National Park to the Bundy Family War. She is currently writing a book about Mormon worldview and U.S. public lands called American Zion.
She predicts that the mistrial will provide "momentum to the current agenda of developing federal lands and the push towards privatization."
Quammen said a potential flashpoint in the near future could be related to ongoing litigation to stop President Donald Trump's executive order sharply reducing the size of two national monuments located in southwest Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.
"If there is litigation that puts a 'stay' on national monument reduction, I wouldn't be surprised if guys with guns show up on public lands," she said. "Ranchers have fought on the ground. Dark money has fought in Washington. And public lands are more vulnerable than they have ever been."
Walker said the Bundy family has been very skillful focusing the public's attention on government overreach, while keeping the religious roots of their opposition to the federal government out of public debate.
Their deep ties to extreme Mormon teachings, however, generated widespread media coverage during the Las Vegas trial when Bundy supporters distributed a 200-page manuscript called The Nay Book outlining their philosophy.
The booklet starts with a letter from Bundy posing the document's central question: "What is the constitutional duty of a member of the Lord's church?" Bundy found answers in the scripture that he believed directed and justified him in "defending my rights and my ranch against the federal government's tyrannical" usurpation of his land, The Washington Post reported in December.
"Bundy represented himself as peacefully protesting government overreach. Who wouldn't go along with that?" Walker said. "In reality, he was talking about an armed religious crusade to overthrow the federal government. If he said that honestly, a lot fewer people would support him."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)
The crowd appears to attack a protestor in a video shared on Twitter by ITV journalist Mahatir Pasha. VOA News / Youtube screenshot
Some London commuters had a violent reaction Thursday morning when Extinction Rebellion protestors attempted to disrupt train service during rush hour.
By Kristen Fischer
Though the science has shown sugary drinks are not healthy for children, fruit drinks and similar beverages accounted for more than half of all children's drink sales in 2018, according to a new report.
Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.