By Charles Sauer- My father taught me if a bully ever threatened me I should punch them. Great advice in theory, but when the hulking behemoth of a scowling bully is bearing down on you it’s hard to curl your fist, rear back and swing. You just have to ask yourself: How much is this lunch money really worth?
It’s the same with the government. When government attacks your freedom and your property, you need to punch back. But fighting the big, hulking behemoth of the federal government is even scarier than the playground bully. The stakes are usually a little higher than a few dollars.
Every once in awhile, however, brave people stand up to the playground bully and others, thankfully, stand up and against the government bully too.
Chris Hunter and his co-owners of Wonder Ranch in southwestern Montana have decided it’s their time to be brave. They’re taking on the government and fighting for land that is rightfully theirs. “It is daunting and depressing, we felt afraid and cornered,” Hunter told me about the government’s actions. “You feel double crossed by your own government. You either have to sue them or it’s a done deal. It doesn’t feel like America, it feels like we are living in one of the horrible dictatorships that we read about in history books.”
The issue is that the U.S. Forest Service likes a quarter-mile-long trail that happens to cut across Wonder Ranch’s private land. For decades, the ranch’s owners have happily granted access to both the public and government employees anytime they’ve wanted to use the trail, which happens to cross through their front yard. It’s been an amicable relationship, but an uncertain one.
“[You] have been very cooperative in allowing us to cross your land to get to the National Forest,” Madison District Ranger Blaine Tennis wrote in a letter to Wonder Ranch, all the way back in 1960. “However, a new owner may not be so inclined and the federal government would possibly have to resort to condemnation proceedings [sic] which are lengthy and costly to both parties involved.”
Mere access wasn’t enough – a bully always wants more, you see. If a playground bully got one Little Debbie yesterday, they’ll probably want two of those sweet, tasty cakes today. The goal isn’t the Little Debbie or the lunch money, the goal is the bullying. At Wonder Ranch, access alone wasn’t enough for the Forest Service: It wants to steal the land now.
There was an alternate proposed route that didn’t cut through the ranch’s front yard. The Forest Service could have reached an amicable conclusion with the landowners. But that wasn’t enough for the Forest Service.
Nope, the bully never stops. The Forest Service, by fiat, claimed an easement through the ranch.
In industry after industry the federal government likes flexing its muscles and putting on shows of strength. They slow down paperwork, they send threatening letters and sometimes they just take what they want. That is what bullies do: They intimidate, harass and demean.
The owners of the ranch shouldn’t have to wage this war, but they are, and we should all get behind them. Fortunately, their supporters are starting to line up. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Tex., is behind them and their right to their property.
“The government shouldn’t bully anyone,” Sessions told me. “The government’s job is to defend our rights, our freedom, and our property. What the Forest Service is doing in Montana is a gross abuse of power.”
“When our Nation’s Founders were laying the ground rules for what the government should and shouldn’t be, one of the items they focused on was the importance of private property,” Sessions continued. “The situation in Montana and the Wonder Ranch shows just how far we have come from those ideals. It is time to restore the role of government to that of the nation’s founding instead of the embracing the bully tactics of an overreaching government.”
After you get over the fear, then punching a bully is easy. Just aim for the nose and swing — although suing the government to get back what’s rightfully yours is a little more complicated. It takes time, it takes money and it takes exposing yourself, your family and your business to further bullying. Pushy government bureaucrats know they have so much less to lose than the people they harass.
Unfortunately for the owners of Wonder Ranch, a district judge just agreed with the Forest Service. Now the ranch owners are going to need to elevate their fight yet again.
The owners of Wonder Ranch deserve a better government. We all deserve a better government. That would be something to be thankful for.