A rancher from Grant County in Southwestern New Mexico renounced his federal grazing contract on Saturday during a protest held by the armed group that has taken over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Adrian Sewell renounced his contract with the U.S. Forest Service during the event at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which The Associated Press reported was attended by about 120 people. Sewell was the only rancher to do so.
“I don’t mind standing out and standing alone,” The AP quoted him as saying.
Sewell posted a video on Facebook on Thursday in which he discussed what he was about to do.
“There comes a point in time in every person’s life that they feel the call of duty,” he said in the video. “Well, I’m answering the call, and I’m on my way into battle, and I need your prayers, because there’s a lot at stake — my life, my liberty, and my property.”
Sewell, who appeared to have recorded the video while driving, said he felt the need “to uphold the United States Constitution to the letter, with no exceptions.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I truly believe that the battle is for your mind, but the war is for your soul,” he said.
Sewell, who is second vice president for the Grant County Farm Bureau, asked for prayers.
Ammon Bundy, who has led the armed occupiers in Oregon since they took control of the wildlife refuge on Jan. 2, was quoted by the AP as saying he wasn’t disappointed that only Sewell tore up his grazing contract.
“I’m very happy he came all the way from New Mexico,” the AP quoted Bundy saying.
Sewell isn’t the only New Mexican to head to Oregon during the occupation by Bundy’s group. On Jan. 11, The New York Times reported that Garrett VeneKlasen, who works for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, was there to protest the occupation.
“I feel threatened, but I’m not going to let a bunch of bullies scare me off of this,” the newspaper quoted VeneKlasen as saying.
What’s the occupation about? From CNN:
First, they want the federal government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge so “people can reclaim their resources,” [Bundy] told CNN [earlier this month]. And second, they want an easier sentence for Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, ranchers who were convicted in 2012 of committing arson on federal lands in Oregon.
The Atlantic has an article about the “injustice” of mandatory minimum sentences and the complex case against the Hammonds:
Opponents of mandatory-minimum sentences should oppose them in this case, too, even though there are far more egregious cases to highlight. Opponents of over-incarceration should look askance at sending an elderly man to prison for five years––two years more than Mike Tyson served for rape––even if he did set a fire to hide an illegal deer hunt. And opponents of overly broad domestic-terrorism laws should object to how the ranchers were prosecuted under them for non-terroristic acts.
Bundy, Sewell and others say they are concerned with what they see as federal overreach in a number of areas related to regulation of federal lands. Bundy asserts that the federal government has no authority over lands that it leases for grazing.
Ammon Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, whose 2014 standoff with armed law-enforcement officers in Nevada stemmed from his refusal to pay federal grazing fees.
Oregon rancher Keith Nantz recently penned an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he wrote that he doesn’t agree with the Oregon occupiers’ tactics but he sympathizes with their position. Grazing on federal land, Nantz wrote, “requires ranchers to follow an unfair, complicated and constantly evolving set of rules.”
The siege on our industry has only increased under the Obama administration. Officials are effectively regulating us out of business by enforcing a string of unprecedented environmental restrictions. In Malhuer county (next to Harney county, where the current standoff is taking place), the Obama administration is considering a measure that will turn 2.5 million acres of federal land into a “national monument,” a move that would severely restrict grazing. These restrictions would cause a huge economic downturn for those communities.
These decisions are being made by people who are four to five generations removed from food production. The rule-makers don’t quite understand our industry, and are being spurred on by extreme environmentalist groups asking for unreasonable policy changes.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, is among those who have called for the prosecution of the occupiers in Oregon.
“Unfortunately, the attack on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is only the latest effort in a growing campaign by anti-government interests to seize and sell off the American people’s public lands,” Heinrich wrote in a Jan. 14 letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“I am concerned that the absence of federal prosecution after similar events in the past, such as the 2014 standoff near Bunkerville, Nevada, may have emboldened these individuals to seize federal property in the Malheur standoff,” Heinrich wrote. “There must be consequences for this sort of dangerous action.”
Local residents in Oregon have joined the area’s sheriff in asking the occupiers to leave. Oregon’s governor has called on federal authorities to put an end to the occupation.
Sewell, on the other hand, shared a video on Facebook that showed him renouncing his contract with the U.S. Forest Service. He wrote that, on Saturday, “real Americans stood up against the tyranny of the federal government.”
A prior version of this article stated that Sewell tore up his contract, quoting The Associated Press article incorrectly. Sewell renounced his contract with the Forest Service but videos don’t show him tearing it up. Bundy has urged ranchers to tear up their contracts.