The events unfolding at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge over the past week should be enough to give all Americans pause. An armed group of anti-government zealots have broken into and occupied public land that is meant to be enjoyed by all Americans. As the welcome sign at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge states, “Welcome to Your National Wildlife Refuge System.”
David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, wrote an “Open Letter to the American People” that we think sums up the situation well. You can read the full text of his letter here. He ties up his commentary this way “Draping the American flag over a national wildlife refuge may hide its name, but it doesn’t hide the fact that this place belongs to every American. It was set aside for all of us to use and enjoy in perpetuity. A few angry men holed up in a refuge museum cannot deter the rest of us from keeping an American promise to conserve wildlife for future generations.”
Currently the refuge is closed. Their website states “An unknown number of armed individuals have broken into and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility near Burns, Oregon. While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee and public safety; we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident. We will continue to monitor the situation for additional developments.”
Registration for the 35th Annual Harney County Migratory Bird Festival begins less than one month from today, and opens on April 8th. The festival occurs during the height of the spring Sandhill Crane, waterfowl and shorebird migrations along the Pacific Flyway and offers spectacular bird watching opportunities. More than 100 species of birds can be viewed during this festival.
According to their website, projects that have been funded by the festival include:
- Interpretive panels at the Narrows Pullout on Malheur Refuge
- Production of a wildlife coloring book for a senior project
- Purchase and installation of the great blue heron sculpture on the corner of Hines Blvd and Grand street
- Coordination of the Wildlife Viewing Trail construction on the old railroad grade running through town
- Purchase of the protective floor cover for the high school gymnasium
- Purchase of tables and chairs for the new community center
- Purchase of large projection screens
Should a very small group of angry men, who don’t even live in the state of Oregon, be allowed to dictate what happens in this American town? After all, the townspeople don’t even want them there! Neither does the sheriff.
If these interlopers foolishly remain in the Malheur headquarters much longer, this community will lose an untold amount of revenue from this thirty-five year old birding festival, not to mention enraging a large number of birders, business owners, and residents.
This armed group claims to be acting upon some justified rage against the Federal government, but their claims are easily refuted and dismantled in the historical record. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the these issues, about land acquisition controversies in the region, and about the role and ecological culpability of ranchers like the Bundys who graze their cattle on public lands. Here’s a collection of links that will provide background and insight into this illegal occupation of our National Wildlife Refuge: