When a presidential pardon draws the praise of Cliven Bundy ...
How one completes that sentence should tell us a lot about how that person feels about public lands access and management. We're in the camp that finds Bundy's endorsement unsettling — not unlike Joan Anzelmo, the former Colorado National Monument superintendent who tweeted:
"This is so very wrong. No one is safe from from felons with friends in high places. Terrible. Dangerous. Wrong."
Anzelmo was referring to Tuesday's presidential pardon of the father-and-son Oregon ranchers whose sentencing for federal arson convictions sparked the 2016 armed takeover of a wildlife refuge near their home.
The 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was led by Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who led his own armed standoff with federal agents in a dispute over grazing fees in 2014.
Because of the Bundy connections, it's hard not to interpret President Donald's Trump's pardon of Dwight and Steven Hammond as a signal that it's OK to seize or destroy public lands and threaten federal employees when one has a beef with the federal government.
In fact, it's not unfair to say that our "law and order" president seems to support lawlessness through his use of presidential pardons. Others who have been pardoned include conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza who pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws, and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted of criminal contempt in a federal case regarding racial profiling.
The pardons have raised questions about whether Trump is using his presidential power to reward political supporters, which is entirely his prerogative. Clemency — pardons and commutations — is an absolute presidential power. Historically presidents have waited until the end of their terms to use it in full force to avoid perceptions of abusing it. Not this president.
We live in a part of the country dominated by public lands. The men and women who work on them managing resources for the public's benefit are our friends and neighbors, so it's disappointing that Trump's pardon in this case seems to look past their safety and welfare.
"Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America's park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers and public lands managers," Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. "President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans."
While such rhetoric may be over the top, there's no question that the president's pardon does little to cool off the long-simmering dispute over federal land policies in the American West.
There are a variety of effective ways to redress grievances in a lawful manner in our system. Destroying federal property isn't one of them and should never be condoned, much less pardoned.