It is hard to believe that beautiful and peaceful-looking Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was the site of an armed occupation only a few months ago. And this is a hard post for me to write because I'd rather concentrate on the beauty of our natural world. (Usually this blog is my 'happy space'.) But there is important information here that I need to share. Everyone who loves nature and the public lands that make it possible for more of us ordinary people to enjoy it should know and remember what happened here last winter.
We used to visit the Malheur and the nearby Steens Mountain when we lived in western Oregon (in our former life) but hadn't been there for years.
We were in Florida last December when we read the news about an armed militia group seizing the Refuge Headquarters. The news certainly would have upset any thinking person (in my opinion), but also, because we loved the area, we felt a personal connection (and that was why we decided to go out of our way to visit the area on our way home). A Google search will show you hundreds of articles and millions of words about the occupation -- but here is my summary (and some opinion).
The immediate goal of the occupation was to force the federal government to hand over the refuge to ranchers (for cattle grazing) and they said they were willing to engage in armed conflict to accomplish that.
None of the occupiers were local -- or even from Oregon -- the leaders said they were acting on behalf of two local ranchers, but the ranchers they named said they did not approve of the occupation. (There are varying opinions about how many local people supported the occupation.)
Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies did not interfere for quite some time -- the occupation lasted for 41 days.
Law enforcement agencies were trying to avoid an armed confrontation, which I guess is understandable, but in the meantime, the occupiers trashed the park headquarters, destroyed some Native American artifacts and other exhibits, kept visitors from the headquarters, and kept the Refuge Staff from doing their jobs.
In late June when we were there, the Visitor Center was still closed as the extensive clean-up is not yet completed.
The occupation ended during a confrontation in which one of the occupiers was killed. A total of 27 people were arrested either then or afterwards when they at last surrendered from the headquarters. They were charged under Federal law with felony conspiracy and most were charged with other felonies and misdemeanors. It was a sad story that went on way too long. (Our Governor announced that the occupation cost the United States about $100,000 per week.) ... And the trials for those arrested have not yet taken place.
A sad story -- but the even more important thing to keep in mind is that these militias have a bigger agenda than just this one refuge in a remote corner of a a Pacific Northwest State. They really want to privatize all public lands everywhere.
Let your local leaders and favorite candidates for office know that you support keeping public lands public!!
Thank you to the hosts.