Respect For Public Lands: Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupation

I’ve been meaning to write about the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for weeks but I just haven’t been able to. My keyboard simply can’t put up with the frustrated key mashing that ensues when my fingers attempt to act as a safety blowoff valve for my thoughts. While I’m not sure that I have a totally unique perspective on the issue, I can’t hold my proverbial internet tongue any longer.

Eastern Oregon

America’s public lands are important to me. I’ve written before about asinine attempts by state legislators to transfer federal lands to state ownership and about how litter on public lands is not only infuriating but can lead to closure of lands by motorized uses. I have spent significant amounts of time wandering around our public lands mostly on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands with bits of exploring National Park Service lands. Hardly a week goes by in which I do not enjoy the freedom that our public lands afford either by exploring gravel roads, hiking to remote peaks, running trails and wandering through remote washes and canyons.

I recently got in a (Twitter) debate with a denizen of the eastern portion of our country who mused about the small percentage of public land east of the Mississippi as compared to the sizeable percentage west of the Mississippi. I didn’t really keep my cool in the debate. To me, a life long westerner who has spent just enough time in the east to make me aware of differences, our public lands are one of the biggest reasons that our country is great. I have written about this before and shared a lovely piece by Tim Egan about the luxury of a public land area more than three times the size of France. This is one of the amazing things about America; we have set aside large swaths of our country for recreation, preservation, exploration, and, dare I say, healing.

Public lands (National Atlas data via Wikipedia)
Public lands (National Atlas data via Wikipedia)

The first answer to “why is there so much public land in the West?” is the climate. Explorer, self-taught scientist, and amazing public servant John Wesley Powell understood that the American West was too arid for agricultural development like that in the east and argued for cooperatives between farmers and rancher for small scale water development funded by themselves, not the federal government. We ignored him and built large dams and the government funded disjointed water projects throughout the west. (I reviewed and highly recommend Wallace Stegner’s Beyond The Hundredth Meridian for more background in Powell.) This land is public because the economics of private ownership do not work (federal grazing fees, of which Cliven Bundy still owes over $1 million, are drastically lower than on private land as a result of lower quality and infrastructure costs plus fees not keeping pace with inflation). Oregon’s eastern “outback” is arid and sparsely populated much more like Utah than like the wet valleys west of the Cascades.

Malheur Refuge

Secondly, and perhaps the better answer to “Constitution” wielding Malheur occupiers, Oregon gave up rights to those public lands when they became a state (as did Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Nevada) under a disclaimer clause found in their respective statehood enabling acts (excellent opinion piece in High Country News, subscription required). Each state had to give up “all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States,” a power granted to the federal government by the Property Clause (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2):

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Reading comprehension is not the strong suit of the militia since this clause clearly grants Congress the power to regulate federal lands as they see fit, including as a National Wildlife Refuge.

Toadstools, Kanab, Utah

BLM: Toadstools near Kanab, Utah


The Constitutional argument is simply a front for advancing their own personal needs: they plan to open the refuge for grazing this spring and demand that the land be given back to the locals. The locals, residents of Harney County, appear to just want the militia to go home and allow them to get back to their daily lives (Steens Mountain Brewing is waiting for the occupation to end so they can get a Kickstarter going to fund a new nanobrewery!) The Paiute tribe is calling for a swift end to the occupation as the militia rifles through artifacts stored at the Refuge.

My heart goes out to the people of Harney County and of Oregon. It breaks for all of us, the ones who look forward to hiking Steens Mountain, value the irreplaceable migratory bird habitat, and treasure the artifacts of pre-Columbian use of the land.

Beth Lakin in Kofa Queen Canyon

Kofa Wildlife Refuge

Many of my blog readers will have already heard about the occupation and are property incensed but I encourage each and every one of you to explain the absurdity of occupation and, perhaps more importantly, the wonder and value of our public lands, to your friends, your parents, your children, and anyone who will listen. Our country gives each and everyone of us the inheritance of our public lands and it is our job to protect that inheritance for the generations that follow.

Playing in the waves

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

Also, shout out to the people who sent dildos and lube to the protesters. It’s been my only bright giggling spot in this whole ordeal.

Update: Less than 12 hours after I hit “publish” on this post, the Ammon and Ryan Bundy plus several others were arrested by the FBI and Harney County Sheriffs somewhere between Burns and John Day. Ammon later issued a statement asking the occupiers to “stand down” but the issue is ongoing. Coverage from The Oregonian can be found here.

Olallie Butte

A few weeks ago, Sprocket and I headed east into the Cascades to hike Olallie Butte. It’s a nice mostly treed hike before scrambling up the last bits of scree to the summit. Olallie is one of Oregon’s 2,000′ prominence peaks and the high point of Wasco county is just off its northeastern flank.

Olallie Butte Trail

Hiking Olallie Butte

Mt. Jefferson dominates the southern view, actually obscuring Three Finger Jack, Mt. Washington and South Sister, with Middle and North Sisters peaking over her eastern shoulder.

Mt. Jefferson from Olallie Butte

Sprocket and Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Hood

Olallie Butte North Ridge

Sprocket on snow

Santiam Pass OHV Area

When I met F almost six years ago, he didn’t own a car and instead did his traveling in a U-Haul that housed not one but rather three motorcycles in the back. As early as our second date he tried to teach me to ride—I would like to tell you all that I tried hard but really I just wanted to ride a circle to prove I could before I crashed and embarrassed myself. Over the years, I’ve putted around in a circle a couple of times but I really failed at actually trying.

Once we learned about the riding area at Santiam Pass and how it has a lot of easy trails, we planned a camping and riding adventure with friends. We borrowed a bike from a friend and I finally committed to giving riding a try. F and I headed up Friday after work and spent the evening hiding from the awful mosquitoes but were able to find a campsite right on an easy trail with an amazing view of Mt. Washington that we climbed back in 2009. I spent Saturday morning riding around in circles getting more proficient at using the clutch and turning around the islands in the camping area. Actually, the best thing that happened to me was crashing in the sand—I’d always secretly harbored the idea that if I crashed I would, with absolute certainty, break my leg.

Beth Riding

The rest of Saturday and Sunday were spent alternately riding and relaxing in camp. I steadily improved and I was meeting the “crash at least once an hour or you’re not improving quota.”

The rest of the photos are courtesy F and the GoPro:

Three Finger Jack and Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Washington

Skye at lake

Mt. June and Hardesty Mountain

Saturday, I tagged along with a hiking group I found on They were headed out to hike Mt. June and Hardesty Mountain southeast of Eugene. We started by climbing Mt. June and then returned to hike Sawtooth Trail out to Hardesty Mountain. The weather was lovely for a nice leisurely long hike along the ridge between the two peaks.

Mt June benchmark

View from Mt. June towards Sawtooth Rock and Hardesty Mountain:

Sawtooth and Hardesty Mountain from Mt. June

Mt. June from near Sawtooth Rock:

Mt. June from near Sawtooth Rock

Oregon forest

Backlit leaves

Trail Signage

Dixon Reservoir:

Dexter reservoir

“View” from Hardesty Mountain:

View from Hardesty Mountain

View from Sawtooth Rock

View from Sawtooth Rock

Grass and Prairie Mountains: Oregon 2,000′ Prominence Peaks

Last week, we spent some time hanging out near Alsea, Oregon. After spending sometime browsing Peakbagger, I picked a couple of mountains to summit. Grass Mountain and Prairie Mountain are both considered “prominent” peaks. (Here’s a very in depth article on prominence if you’re curious). Oregon has 74 peaks with at least 2,000′ of prominence; Grass Mountain ranks 57th and Prairie Mountain ranks 47th.

Sprocket and I set off first for Grass Mountain. The road was currently being used for logging operations and was in really great shape. Instead of hiking the closed road to the summit, I opted to head directly up the ridge. From the mid-1950s to 1970, the mountain was home to a fire lookout although all remnants except four concrete foundation blocks are gone. The trees have grown up around the mountain and there isn’t much to be seen from the summit. Sprocket, however, enjoyed a good sniff:


Instead of returning down the ridge the way we came, we headed out the road. This lead around the south side of the summit affording me views of the southern Coast Range.


Grass Mountain

Seed Tree

Oregon Woods

View from Grass Mountain flanks

As I looped back around to the northwestern side of the mountain, I was delighted to catch a glimpse of Mt. Hood:

Mt. Hood

Then, I noticed Mt. Jefferson peeking out as well:

Mt. Jefferson

We backtracked down the mountain and then headed south of Alsea to Prairie Mountain. I expected to have to hike to the summit, just like on Grass Mountain. Instead, however, I discovered that the gate two miles shy of the summit was open. At the top, I saw someone working on radio equipment so I grabbed a quick photo and headed back out.

Prairie Mountain view


In all, it was an awesome day to be out playing in the Coast Range!

Mary’s Peak

Last Saturday night, I was sitting in a friends house chatting around the kitchen table about all the awesome things that we need to do this summer. I mentioned we should head up Marys Peak to watch the sunrise later in the summer. Marys Peak is the highpoint of the Central Oregon Coast Range and the highpoint for Benton County.

Marys peak

As it turned out, neither of them had ever been up Marys Peak at all (even though one had lived nearby his whole life) and they were excited to go. In fact, they were so excited that within twenty minutes we were in the car with sleeping bags and some warm clothing. Sprocket happily hopped in the back of the car and away we went.

Arriving at the end of the long twisty road that takes you nearly to the top of the peak, I pitched a tent for Sprocket and I just outside the car. We promptly fell asleep after setting my alarm for 5am. (Sprocket, as usual, was an awesome tent cuddler. His nose immediately found its way into my sleeping bag.)

Marys peak sunrise

Waking in the dawn twilight, I realized that it was sort of cloudy so we wouldn’t get the full sunrise effect from the mountain: when it’s really clear all the Cascade peaks from Rainier to Shasta are silhouetted by the light and the furthest peaks disappear the moment the sun rises over Mount Jefferson. Since we’d driven all the way to the mountain we hiked the 0.7 miles to the top despite the clouds and watched the sun rise over the valley, picking out I-5, the Willamette River, Eugene, Corvallis, and other small towns.

Marys Peak

Starting the day on a mountaintop is never a bad plan