This land is your land

Siege of public land in Oregon prompts conservationist action in North State

Cache Creek Wilderness, pictured here, is part of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, one of the most recent wilderness areas to receive federal designation.

Cache Creek Wilderness, pictured here, is part of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, one of the most recent wilderness areas to receive federal designation.


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Andrew Fulks has a strong connection to public lands. They tie into his profession as a riparian reserve manager for UC Davis, where he’s also assistant director of the arboretum, and they’re intertwined with some of his most cherished personal memories.

“I take my sons on the same hikes my dad took me when I was their age,” Fulks said of Ryan, 14, and Dean, 12. “We’ve got pictures of me in the late ’70s at the top of Rockbound Pass in Desolation Wilderness, and I’ve got the same photo of my son and I in the 2000s in the same location.

“That’s the shared legacy and heritage we have from these public lands.”

It’s understandable, then, why he and other conservationists had a visceral reaction when armed militants laid claim to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Jan. 2. The group demanded that the federal government relinquish ownership of the 188,000-acre preserve that includes lakes, a river, marshland, a volcanic field and cattle-grazing trails.

Fulks, board president for the Woodlands-based preservation group Tuleyome, thought the militia’s move was “just crazy … nobody’s ever accomplished anything this way; when they’re trying to take something from the public versus give something back—and our history with [government agencies and officials] is just the opposite because we’ve always worked in partnership.”

The Conservation Lands Foundation went a step further.

Headquartered in Colorado but serving seven Western states, with a branch location in San Francisco, CLF decided to mount a public action that flipped the militants’ script.

The result: Service Not Seizure.

CLF’s campaign is raising money to fund a work crew—or crews, depending on the proceeds—of veterans, Native Americans and youth that will take part in conservation corps efforts on public land such as building trails and preserving wildlife and waterways.

The amount also will determine the scope and location(s) of the work. As of the CN&R’s deadline, online fundraiser CrowdRise had collected about $4,200.

“After the siege took place, we really wanted to find a way to respond that was both rational and positive and find a way for people to counter that criminal act,” said Charlotte Overby, CLF’s rivers and restoration programs director, who’s coordinating Service Not Seizure.

“As we thought about it, we came up with this campaign as a way for people to make donations that will go to young people, young veterans and Native Americans who want to do service and give back to the land and ensure that public lands are protected for habitat and for future generations.”

CLF announced Service Not Seizure on Jan. 14.

“We’re going to do something terrific with the money and send that other message out there,” Overby said. “There are so many polls out that demonstrate massive and overwhelming support among the public for conservation and for public lands in the West. I think the rogue militants holding public lands hostage in Oregon are in a tiny minority, and we wanted to give people a way to voice that other opinion—that public lands belong to everyone, that they’re treasured and that we have a responsibility to keep them for people coming down the pipe: our descendents.”

While most Americans know about the National Park System—and North State residents know the national parks in our region—far fewer have awareness of another set of protected properties called National Conservation Lands. These fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and have existed as a composite concept for just 15 years.

National monuments, national conservation areas, national scenic and historic trails, wilderness areas and wilderness study areas are among the 871 sites comprising 31 million acres of National Conservation Lands.

“They’re really in many ways the best of the best for BLM,” Overby said. “So we [at CLF] champion for those, work for strong policy, and we want people to learn about them and learn to love them.”

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is one of the newest additions, receiving federal designation from President Obama in July. Its northern reaches touch Glenn and Colusa counties; Tuleyome partners with BLM to support it, and Fulk says Chicoans come to enjoy the land as well as work on preservation projects.

This area is full of public lands that fall under a variety of jurisdictions—city, county, state, federal. To some degree, Fulk says, the governmental patchwork can cause problems, because “sometimes not knowing who’s responsible gives a sense of ownership and entitlement that’s misplaced.”

Sound like the Malheur militants?

Fulk described that group as “hardcore true-believers” who “tried to get the locals on their side, but the locals wanted no part of it because the locals see the reality—they see that, ‘hey, this guy who works for the federal government is one of my friends’; it’s not just a faceless, amorphous other coming down to enslave us.”

As for Service Not Seizure, he said: “Counter-protests tend to end up with people just yelling at each other. Sometimes you need that to offset folks, but I think [CLF] did it in a way that turns something that was not a positive into a positive.”