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Resolution of dispute in Oregon shows how democracy should work

  • Author: Rosa Meehan
  • Updated: June 26, 2016
  • Published February 26, 2016

Resolution of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation and return of Fish and Wildlife Service employees to the refuge is a refreshing example of how our government works.

To recap: Ammon Bundy and a group of followers occupied the refuge located in Harney County, Oregon, to protest federal land management. Over the course of their occupation, they had ample opportunity to make statements to the press, attend local meetings and host meetings of their own. Throughout, Bundy and his followers preached their interpretation of the Constitution -- basically a view that the federal government has limited authority and lands belong to local residents. While some in the community shared the perspective of "federal overreach," no one was willing to tear up grazing leases and take up arms against the government as advocated by the occupiers. Rather than the grass-roots uprising and revolution the Bundys hoped for, local sentiment was strongly against them.

Ultimately, law enforcement quietly arrested the heavily armed occupiers with the confrontation carefully staged on a remote road. While one of the militants was killed after allegedly reaching for a gun, the enforcement action clearly relied on patience and made every effort to reach a peaceful resolution with minimal risk to bystanders -- a stark contrast to previous bloody standoffs between federal law enforcement and militants in Waco and in Ruby Ridge.

In fact -- and this is where I take heart in how our democracy works -- local ranchers had worked with federal officials and other interests (like the local Paiute Tribe) on the refuge land management plan and also with the Bureau of Land Management (and other federal agencies) on a Greater Sage Grouse management plan. Both plans are viewed as positive and flexible approaches that address ranchers' concerns (e.g., grazing continues on the refuge) and protect environmental values. In the case of the sage grouse plan, an Endangered Species Act listing was averted and a rancher described the management strategies as "what's good for the bird is good for the herd."

In sum, people with strong vested opinions worked together in established governmental frameworks to develop acceptable solutions. Compromise is an integral part of both planning efforts with no single voice dominating the discourse. No doubt some faults can be found in these plans, but notably, those who worked together with government officials supported the collaborative approach over anarchy as advocated by the occupiers.

Congress would do well to follow this example. As the loud and rancorous political process grinds on, one thing is crystal clear -- people are upset with the political establishment and partisan bickering. It is long past time for our national representatives to set aside rhetoric and do their jobs. Respect all perspectives, work toward acceptable compromise and get the business of government done. Democracy requires nothing less and, as the good folks in Harney County demonstrated, people are quite capable of implementing and supporting these basic tenets of democracy.

It is worth reflecting on the sentiments of President Lincoln in the closing phrase of the Gettysburg Address, where he so eloquently honored those slain and declared their sacrifice would would bring a new birth of freedom so that "a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Rosa Meehan is an environmental consultant and a guest editor at Alaska Dispatch News.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any Web browser.

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