Feds’ overreach is an issue here, too

As we continue to watch the events at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge unfold, we should stop to see what’s happening right here in Eastern Washington.

Are federal land managers usurping authority and power voters never gave them? Are they forcing unbearable regulations on the farmers and ranchers that feed our nation? Are they restricting access to roads in our forests and shrub-steppe area?

The obvious answer is yes.

If you try to drive old logging roads in the Cascades, the Blues or even the Selkirks, you’ll often run into barricades. So-called “travel” plans for national forests are restricting truck, ATV and snowmobile use. Ranchers are being forced to fence off creeks. Areas that have snowmelt in wet years are being called “wetlands” for the purpose of regulating agricultural uses.

But those are just the obvious things those of us who live in rural areas of Eastern Washington see on a daily basis.

There’s more here going on.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been talking to a farming family growing wheat and raising cattle on about 1,000 acres between Cheney and Spangle, adjacent to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

A few years ago, a relative’s death should have meant two children and one parent would have taken over ownership of 820 acres bequeathed in a will. But years later, the family still hasn’t settled the probate case. Why? Because Turnbull and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bureaucrats want title to the land.

One of the heirs, now 18 and a college student, says he’s ready to take on a larger role in the family farming operation. But his parents have had to tell him he can’t, yet, have access to the land set aside for him in a will.

The probate case hasn’t been settled because an estate representative met with Turnbull officials about possibly selling the land. The representative had neither permission from the heirs (or their parents), nor the authority to enter an agreement.

The family has notified Turnbull and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that none of the three heirs (one is still only 13 years old) are willing sellers.

But the federal agency hasn’t backed down. Instead, the feds have brought in an assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington to lean on the family, the family said.

Interestingly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say the agency wouldn’t pressure the family to sell. Furthermore, they say they only want to work with a “willing” seller. So why then bring in a hired gun in a family probate case? Why not let probate wrap up and then see if any “willing sellers” arise from the three heirs.

The answer is agency bureaucrats desire to take over more land. The refuge is 18,217 acres, but Turnbull officials want control over 44,324 acres — either through ownership or through regulation. That would expand Turnbull authorities’ reach from about the Cheney city limit all the way to U.S. Highway 195, which links Spokane and Pullman.

That brings us back to the standoff in Malheur. (which has been more like a sit-in.)

Farmers and ranchers are taking a stand in the high desert of Eastern Oregon to shed light on the types of government overreach and strong-arm tactics that are also playing out here in Eastern Washington. They are raising awareness of the plight of ruralites who live, work and recreate on the land.

The Malheur and Turnbull situations are prime examples of what’s wrong with federal management of publicly owned lands. And it was only a matter of time until someone, somewhere, stood up and said no more.

— Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of the Daily Sun News. Email him at rharnack@dailysunnews.com.


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