What if it happened here?

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2016

    The armed sit-in by ranchers at an Oregon wildlife refuge is only the latest indication that we have moved into an era in which a growing number of Americans believe they can ignore any governmental regulation and expect to be left alone.

    The western rancher anger is not a new phenomenon.

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    The federal government has historically owned and controlled a majority of the land in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Wyoming.

    For generations, western ranchers were allowed to graze cattle, dig mines and do most anything they chose to do on much of that federal property. In recent times, however, the government has looked more closely at how the land is used — and in some instances, abused. And, so, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees large swaths of federal land, began limiting the activities that could be employed by those using the land.

    And that is largely where the rub has come. People who had used federally-owned land largely without interference for generations had come to think of it as their land.

    Some time ago, the Bundy family, which is leading the current sit-in, challenged the government’s right to set new regulations and the government, to its discredit, backed down. Probably because the government blinked, the Bundy clan felt empowered to occupy the wildlife refuge building and dare the government once again.

    Sooner or later, the government will react to challenges such as this and then there will be the real potential for violence.

    I was trying to think of an analogy to what is happening in Oregon and it led to the current discontent among Chesapeake Bay watermen over oyster regulations. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is given authority over public oyster grounds by the General Assembly, and the Virginia Department of Health is given control over public as well as private oyster grounds.

    If watermen were to defy either or both agency and claim an unequivocal right to harvest oysters without governmental interference, that would be pretty comparable to what is happening in Oregon.

    The government — state and federal — has an obligation to the Chesapeake Bay to try and protect a resource that is critically important to the Bay’s health. Likewise, the federal government is charged with protecting natural resources on its lands, vast though they be.

    There is plenty of room for debate of whether the BLM’s policies are always reasonable or even necessary, just as there is room to debate the VMRC’s actions. But when we declare ourselves to be essentially sovereign individuals, not bound by government regulations that are designed (however poorly) for the common good, then we have invited anarchy.

    And if anarchy is allowed to flourish, civil society collapses.