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New West Daily Roundup for Jan. 4, 2016

Today in New West news: debate over public land flares up as armed group moves onto Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, tiny homes in Colorado, and the best (and worst) cities to find a job.

After a rancher (Dwight L. Hammond) and his son (Steven D. Hammond) were sentenced to federal prison time for setting fires that spread onto federal land, a group of protesters arrived on-site to protest. What appeared to be a peaceful protestation, however, took a left turn when an armed contingent moved into a set of administrative buildings on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. There was no resistance, as the buildings were empty at the time. From the New York Times:

“We will be here for as long as it takes,” said Ryan Payne, an Army veteran who characterized the group’s action as a liberation of public lands. “People have talked about returning land to the people for a long time. Finally, someone is making an effort in that direction.”

He said there was already talk of renaming the refuge the Harney County Liberty Center.

Relatives of the ranchers convicted of arson, Dwight L. Hammond and his son Steven D. Hammond, 46, distanced themselves from the armed takeover, but said they understood the underlying anger over federal land policies that many here feel are intrusive and overreaching.

“I don’t know those people that well, except that I just see from the outside that we have a lot of things in common,” said Dwight Hammond’s wife, Susan. “We share a lot of sentiments in regards to our government, and the overreach into management of our country.”

The Harney County sheriff, David M. Ward, said in a statement on Sunday, “These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”

Among the group were members of the Bundy family, who made headlines last year when Cliven Bundy led a similar standoff in Nevada, when he was found grazing cattle illegally on federal land. Interestingly, Cliven told Oregon Public Broadcasting (quoted in the Atlantic): “I don’t quite understand how much they’re going to accomplish … I think of it this way: what business does the Bundy family have in Harney County, Oregon?” Various members of the protest have said they do not anticipate violence but have, nonetheless, demonstrated a willingness and propensity to do so.

This is an ongoing story and we expect to have more information as the days go on.

Over in Colorado, one Colorado community is working to integrate tiny housing into their community infrastructure, a move that could set precedent across the state and (possibly) the West as a whole. Last November, the Walsenburg city council voted to eliminate their square-footage minimum for zoning. Prior to this, according to Outside Magazine, the only community in the United States that did away with a square-foot minimum was Spur, Texas. From Outside Magazine:

In Colorado, the small units could be a solution to a chronic mountain-town problem: lack of affordable housing for the people who work there. That’s how Rod Stambaugh, founder and president of Sprout Tiny Homes, sees them. His plan: to build the world’s first tiny-home subdivision and revolutionize the rural economy in the process.

“Tiny homes are the only solution that can save some of these declining rural communities or provide quality affordable housing in…the mountain communities that are booming,” he says.

Stambaugh has researched tiny homes and what he calls “the decline of rural America” for years. Since founding La Junta, Colorado–based Sprout in December 2013, he’d been looking for a way to build not just one-off structures but entire tiny-home developments. But everywhere he saw potential, zoning codes precluded the subdivisions. “We got tired of banging our head against that wall,” Stambaugh says.

Soon after Walsenburg eliminated its size restriction, Stambaugh, a 55-year-old businessman who made his money in the mobile electronic payment industry, bought about 4.5 acres of agricultural land in town, and then had the zoning changed to residential. Sprout plans to build 32 units on the land, as well as a community center and outdoor movie theater. Demand has been strong for the tiny homes, which range in size from 262 to 672 square feet (some tiny homes are as small as 120 square feet), says Stambaugh, who expects them to sell for $60,000 to $130,000.

Finally, to ring in the New Year, WalletHub has released a new list ranking the best (and worst) cities to find a job. The list analyzed both the job market (including the number of jobs offered in relation to the number of unemployed residents, job variety, number of residents living in poverty, and the median starting salary) and the socio-economic environment. And overall, major New West cities performed well. Indeed, Salt Lake City took home fifth place, pulling in third in the “Job Market” rank while pulling in 37th for socio-economic environment. Boise, ID and Denver, CO ranked 11th and 12th (respectively) and Boise ranked number one for its socio-economic environment. Other New West cities that made the list include Aurora and Colorado Springs, CO, which ranked 36th and 48th respectively.

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