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Audubon Society of Portland Statement on the End of the Occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

February 11, 2016: The last occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge surrendered to federal authorities this morning, ending the illegal armed occupation of Malheur. Audubon Society of Portland appreciates law enforcement officials who worked to bring this illegal occupation to a close, Malheur Refuge staff and their families who were displaced by this occupation, and the local community who strongly rejected this occupation.

Audubon Society of Portland Statement on the End of the Occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Candace Larson

By Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

February 11, 2016:  The last occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge surrendered to federal authorities this morning, ending the illegal armed occupation of Malheur. Audubon Society of Portland appreciates law enforcement officials who worked to bring this illegal occupation to a close, Malheur Refuge staff and their families who were displaced, and the local community who strongly rejected this occupation. 

Migration is already underway—Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes are passing through the refuge and tens of thousands of shorebirds and hundreds of thousands of waterfowl are not far behind. We look forward to refuge staff resuming critical work that is necessary to prepare Malheur for their arrival.

The armed, illegal occupation of a wildlife refuge, threats, intimidation, destruction of public property and wildlife habitat, and interference with Native American artifacts does not constitute a political statement. It is criminal activity and Portland Audubon urges the federal government to enforce the rule of law, and discourage further attacks upon public lands. 

In recent years Malheur has become a place of consensus and collaboration as the refuge has worked with the local community, the Burns Paiute Tribe, conservation groups and other stakeholders to develop a long-term plan to protect and restore wildlife habitat both on the refuge and on surrounding ranchlands. 

This collaborative work has spanned many years and continued even during the height of the occupation.  On January 31, 2016, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board recognized this important collaborative work with a $6 million multi-year grant to support efforts to restore Malheur Lake and to promote flood irrigation on surrounding ranchlands.

It is this spirit of collaboration that is the actual story of Malheur, and should light the path forward. There will continue to be disagreement over natural resource issues in Eastern Oregon, but this makes it all the more important to nurture those places where consensus and collaboration have been established. When we do disagree, we should do so in a way that is civil and respectful.

The occupation of Malheur also exposed a broader movement that seeks to eliminate federal ownership of public lands and turn those lands over to private interests. The protection of these public lands is widely and strongly supported by the public. Our national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, BLM lands and wildlife refuges are national treasures. The illegal occupation of Malheur drew national and international outrage and it will continue to be important for the public to send a strong message about the importance of public lands.

We received tremendous interest from our members and the public during the occupation about how people might support the refuge. Portland Audubon had over 600 people sign-up for information about upcoming opportunities to participate in Malheur related volunteer work parties, birding trips, lectures and opportunities to advocate in support of the restoration efforts.  In the coming weeks we will be working with the refuge to develop and facilitate opportunities for public involvement. 

In 1902, Audubon Society of Portland was founded with the goal of establishing the first wildlife refuges in the Western United States at Malheur, Klamath and Three Arch Rocks. At that time, the wildlife that depended on Malheur were under threat from plume hunters that were decimating bird populations for their feathers. Audubon members came together then to protect this incredible place and we will continue to work to protect Malheur and other public lands across Oregon.

Thanks to everyone who supported Malheur and Harney County throughout this illegal occupation. We look forward to moving forward together in the spirit of collaboration that has been the real story of Malheur in recent years. We will communicate with our membership and others who have expressed interest in supporting Malheur as new opportunities emerge.

Burrowing Owl
Photo by Candace Larson
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