The judge dismissed Cliven Bundy, Ryan and Ammon with prejudice. So the Bundys walk.

The Bundys Walk

What does Cliven Bundy’s acquittal mean for advocates?

The Bundys include Cliven, his sons Ryan and Ammon. Associated with them are extremist libertarians who believe the government cannot constitutionally own land. For them, the right to bear arms and the right to private land ownership is foundational to liberty. They have advocated their values with federal law enforcement officers at gunpoint in Oregon and Nevada.

For each event, federal prosecutors charged the Bundys and other extremist members. In 2016 and 2017 there were two court cases in Portland, Oregon for the #OregonStandoff. The jury found Ammon and Ryan not guilty. Prosecutors failed to prove that the Bundys conspired to harm federal employees. The court case over Bunkerville, Nevada was in January 2018. This time prosecutors withheld information critical for the defense. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice. So Cliven Bundy, Ryan, and Ammon walk.

What does the Bundys acquittal mean for educators and advocates? Organizations for wildlife, public lands, conservation, environment, outdoor sports and recreation should read.

Second Amendment rights are involved because of #Bunkerville and #OregonStandoff activists armed themselves. The Constitution connotes the right to bear arms for defense against government regimes. Government overreach is one of the things inferred by the Bundys. These court cases show how difficult it is to prosecute extremists like the Bundys. Political winds are currently in their favor. When the winds shift, there is now less deterrent to armed resistance.

  • If you work in the outdoors, you are likely accustomed to seeing people with guns. You’d assume them to be hunters or backcountry hikers. The Bundys suggest that is no longer be a safe assumption. Malheur employees were warned, fortunately, and escaped the incident. People using public lands or working in the field should be prepared in advance for such an occasion. I do not recommend arming yourselves without the proper training. I do recommend having a risk management plan. Think: run, hide, fight.

These court cases involve concepts at the heart of our public lands. The Bundy Ranch and Malheur Occupation are often related to the Sagebrush Rebellion. The extremists involved oppose what they perceive as governmental overreach. They believe public lands to be a federal seizure of private land. By libertarian doctrine, the US Constitution protects private land ownership. This includes the privatization of all natural resources. And these values supersede any idea of holding lands in common.

Two wins for a political fragment who think private property prohibits public land. It may seem a long way to go before losing public land designations. But there is a clear path, and we’re on it. It began with a president removing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante designations. The Bundys are living martyrs to this cause. The Bundys influence will now increase. Cliven Bundy was a public speaker before. He now has even more of a story to tell. And he has the ear of lawmakers. People will cite the Bundys’ relevance in political dialogue.

  • Educate yourself about the history and importance of public lands designations. Know how this fits into the Sagebrush Rebellion story. Have an answer for whether your mission threatens private property or enables federal overreach.
    It is now time to compassionately put every resource toward the defense of our public lands and wildlife.

Endangered species protection was a catalyst for the Bunkerville standoff. The Bundys see environmental policy as an excuse at best, conspiracy at worst, for the federal seizure of property. Whether environmental concerns are legitimate or not, they believe the land should be private. Fueled by our political dichotomies, people will tout the Bundys as underdogs. Environmentalists are already seen as Riff Raff, federal agents as Simon Bar Sinister. Far-right conservatives think we are either ignorant or implicit in a conspiracy to destroy America.

  • It is in our best interest to stop the karmic cycle of demonizing the other side. Instead, practice open honesty about your humanity and reasons for doing what you do. People respond to sincerity.

Finally, on a more subtle reading, the Bundy experience speaks to stakeholder input. Or the lack thereof. The Bundys think no one knows or cares more about the land they use than they do. They resist anyone telling them what to do with it. Federal designations are just locking it up. There is a reason that Ryan and Ammon looked to local miners and ranchers to be a cause for their battle. Libertarians broadly support the input of local business and development in land management. Recreational use is a gateway drug to tree hugging. And if you don’t live here, then go home. If you’re not building, taking, or have money in the game, you’re wasting the resource. The Libertarian caucus has pushed this doctrine with their vote since February 2017. Americans are being shut out of the discussion about public land management.

  • The outdoor industry is leveraging outdoor recreation economy. Political influences and successes have resulted from their collaboration with outdoor sports. Join them.
  • Follow their lead by building capacity rather than isolating yourself. Whether your issues are outdoor, environmental, wildlife, climate, collaborate across these sectors. The broadest multi-sector relevance to our mission creates diversity and resilience in approach.
  • Invest time and resources into places you value at the further end of your distance of travel. You live in New York but love Yosemite National Park? Become an active part of the Yosemite Conservancy.
  • Advocate locally for places at the further end of your distance of travel. Write letters to the editor about in your favorite locale. You live in Chicago but love public lands? Email the Tribune about the president reducing Bears Ears National Monument.

Your “one particular harbor” is soon to have a VIP only sign on the front gate. The founding president of designations said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Be kind, and fight hard.

To better understand public land designation, click here to check out

Click here to read what Cliven Bundy did in the Bunkerville, Nevada standoff.

Click here to read what Ryan and Ammon Bundy did in the Malheur Occupation, Oregon Standoff.



Need help thinking through your organization’s response? Send me your email and I’ll contact you.