Bundy Siege: No Win in Sight

The Narrows in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Wild bunchgrass and whorled dock line The Narrows in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. Photograph by Steve Terrill, used with permission. www.steveterrill.com

 

A county shattered, in mourning, in relief, in disbelief. Confusion. Eleven arrested. One dead. Four are still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, asking yet another preposterous ransom, freedom from arrest.

We wanted a peaceful resolution, and we almost got it the first time around. The FBI and local law enforcement found the perfect place for a roadblock ambush up a steep canyon towards John Day, which is 70 miles from Burns. They chose a place up canyon near a major campground where they could hide their vehicles until showdown.

Car number one was stopped at the first blockade. Ammon Bundy and Brian Cavalier (“Booda”) were arrested. Drive Mike McConnell, a relative newcomer to the refuge, was taken into custody, questioned and then later released.

Behind them was the diesel truck that was being driven by Lavoy Finicum, that held Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Shawna Cox, and Victoria Sharp, an 18 year old member of the Sharp Family Singers, a bluegrass gospel group from Kansas that was scheduled to sing at the meeting in John Day. Lavoy stopped, then cut and run, saw the second blockade, swerved to avoid it, plowed into a snow bank, got out of the truck, and was shot. Four eyewitness accounts agree up to here.

Accounts begin to diverge about the actual shooting. According to a phone call that Bundy apparently made to his wife from the back of a police car, Lavoy was shot while he was on his knees with his hands up in the air.

According to Mike McConnell, Shawna Cox told him that Lavoy and Ryan Payne had a heated discussion and “The next thing Lavoy is out of the car and charging towards law officers. “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqMuM7u6ph8

Then there’s the account by Victoria, who regarded the men at the refuge as heroes. Victoria must have felt quite the pride and self-importance riding with them in the car. What did she think when she saw the police convoy stopping the front car and Lavoy deciding to try an end run before crashing into the snow bank. According to her, “With the car running, Finicum got out of the car and he had his hands in the air and he was like, saying ‘Just shoot me, just shoot me.’ And they did. They shot him dead.” She did not report that he was saying, “I surrender, don’t shoot.”

She reported her story in an audio feed to right-wing reporter Pete Santilli in a car some hours after the takedown after she had been talked to and released by the police. You can hear the hysteria in her voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y92PvMFL0Eg

Then there’s the official account by the SWAT team., followed by a video taken from an airplane: “Finicum, with police in hot pursuit, attempted to leave the main road and drove into a snow bank. When he emerged from the vehicle, FBI and state police ordered him to surrender. That’s when, authorities say, Finicum reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun. The SWAT team opened fire. Finicum was killed. Ryan Bundy suffered a light wound on his arm.” http://www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/fbi-standoff-continues-release-video-of-finicum-death/

Now there will be trial by media and social media. Many, including Finicum’s family and Cliven Bundy, will believe that he was shot in cold blood, dying for the cause he believed in, a martyr. Others say, ‘Suicide by cop.’

Perhaps we might reflect that there weren’t more deaths that night in a very tense situation. Perhaps we might speculate that Lavoy’s death spared his family of the grief of watching their finances drain out in a long trial that would probably have ended up with Lavoy in jail. Better to regard him as a hero than as some deranged madman. Better to reflect that Victoria Sharp was released. That poor girl will hear bullets in her head hitting the truck as she crouched down in the cab of that truck forever. Hundreds and hundreds of bullets, she said. “Ten to fifteen minutes.”

Even if peaceful resolution had gone down without bloodshed, there would still be trauma and sadness. There was already a great deal of sympathy for the men that occupied the refuge in our community, one among many issues that have divided the community here.

Some of these men certainly had that old West charisma about them, the good outlaws with the big hats, a mythology wrapped up pretty good into their psyches and that of their followers. They were revolutionary heroes, brandishing guns of righteousness and spouting God and the Constitution. Nobody had more freedom of speech and a bigger bully pulpit than they did. They spouted off to every media outlet they could at every opportunity. The coverage was immense—more perhaps than Donald Trump.

Did they think their arrogant lawlessness would grant them immunity and freedom from consequences?

I hope that letting some of the occupiers of the refuge leave peacefully does not mean that they will be free of arrest at some future time. Selective enforcement towards some would open more wounds. Already people are asking why Mike McConnell was allowed to go free?

Early on in the occupation of the refuge, Ammon Bundy talked about ‘federal agencies putting one family under duress.’ His payback was to put an entire county in duress. Bundy and others scoffed at the ‘small fires’ set by the Hammonds. Their payback was to unleash an emotional firestorm and, now, a hugely expensive legal fight. They talked about their grand plans to help restore the economy by turning over federal lands to local control. Instead they’ve caused financial chaos. Millions of dollars. Who will pay those bills? Who bears the cost of the emotional bills?

These are not my kind of heroes.

The invasion of these outlaws into our community meant that many residents felt they were being held hostage to preposterous ransoms. Many were afraid and intimidated, their emotional privacy violated. As the numbers of militants from out of town grew. and are still growing, many of us felt as though we were living inside some kind of weird outlaw convention under the spotlight of an incredible cadre of media and an equally incredible cadre of law enforcement. Our local law enforcement and county and city officials suffer great tension. It’s been a no-win for everyone involved, and there is no real end in sight.

At some point, everyone from out of town will go home and leave us alone to heal our wounds. Perhaps then we can find some new conversation; some positive solutions to old challenges. Out of chaos often comes a renewed sense of purpose and unity.

What new directions and hope will we find?

The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer. His work has been featured in many magazines, including AudobonNational Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from www.SteveTerrill.com. Thank you.

Bundy Siege: The Real Refuge They Have Robbed

Yesterday, a bald eagle perched in an elm tree in my neighbor’s yard. In the spring, eagles are common in Eastern Oregon. There’s even a tree on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that eagles use as an airport, flying in and out by the dozens about every ten seconds—one of the most remarkable sights I have ever seen.

Within the month, Ross’ geese will be here, hundreds of thousands of them, squawking and swirling in spirals as they land or take off on the many ponds near town or at the Refuge. A wild profusion of ducks, storks, cranes, and swans visit here, the their wings beating rhythms in the air.

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Ross’ geese by the tens of thousands crowd fields and ponds at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and around Burns/Hines during their annual Spring migration through Harney County. Photo by Kelly Hazen. Used with permisison.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is not just for the birds. They are shelters for people like me who want to get away from the meanness of the world. Here far-away horizons beckon me into empty, vast wild lands. And sometimes, at night, out in the emptiest of these places, silence wraps you in its magic. Absolute stillness. When there is no moon, my mind is gently drawn upwards into the soliloquy of the stars.

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I know that neighbors love these wonders as well—birders, fishermen, horsemen, kayakers, bikers and hikers, and yes, many ranchers that respect the land and the critters that live there.

Now the Refuge is occupied by outlaws, claiming to be sent by God and the Constitution. Their cohorts patrol the roads, follow and intimidate people; crowd motels in town and campgrounds out of town. They have caused emotional disarray among residents of Burns/Hines and within our ranch communities. Anger, fear, hostility and wariness dominate many conversations. I have not heard such divisiveness among families and friends since protests against the Vietnam War.

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Snowy White Owl. Photo by Kelly Hazen. Used with permission.

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The appreciation for the beauties that Harney County offers has been missing from the meaner focus started by the outlaws out at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the militia roaming our town. They have sown great discord into our peace of mind. And robbed so many of us of one of the jewels of wilderness in Harney County.

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The lands that are still held by federal agencies, including our National Parks and wildlife refuges, are public lands—without  “No Trespassing” signs and barbed wire to shoo us away.

These lands are not just to about mining, logging and timbering. To privatize federal lands for the money these industries might bring would be to rob us of an essential refuge for the soul.

Will these militant outlaws go away, be arrested, leave town before our renowned bird festival in April? I hope so.

Those armed bandits that roam so freely and arrogantly at the Refuge fill me with dread and sorrow. They make it impossible to visit. They desecrate a lovely place.

The wildness of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge draws me so that I can purge myself of fear and restore my enthusiasm and curiosity for life. It brings me peace of mind and helps my heart follow a path of peace.

Shame on the outlaws that would rob me of an essential refuge for the soul.

 

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The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer.  His work has been featured in many magazines, including Audobon, National Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from www.SteveTerrill.com.  Thank you.

 

 

Bundy Siege: Lavoy Finicum’s Hypocrisy

You might even give it the title “The Ballad of Tarp Man,” Lavoy Finicum’s new nickname. There he is huddling over a little fire in the snow, rocking away in his chair, his trusty assault weapon beside him, covered with his blue tarp, guarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge against an invasion from law enforcement who would like nothing better than to arrest him and his seditionist friends.

It’s a lonely vigil, not even stars to keep Tarp Man company, because it has snowed almost continuously since he’s been there.  Soon, maybe even this week, there will be a thaw and the refuge roads will become as bog-thick and slimy as the mud he’s been slinging.

Tarp man and his buddies, whom I refer to as the Bundy Bunch, seized the refuge in late December and have been using their bully pulpit to bullhorn their anti-government message.

But perhaps not all government is bad for Lavoy.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), four foster children were removed from his home in Chino Valley, AZ. More digging by OPB found that Catholic Charities Community Service of Arizona paid the Finicums $115,343 in 2009. It is their main income. His cows just cover the costs of running the ranch. http://www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/militant-says-foster-children-were-pulled-from-his-home-lavoy-finicum-burns-oregon/

What OPB did not mention, is that, according to Catholic Charities’ annual report, this organization receives over 80% of its funding from government contracts and grants. https://www.catholiccharitiesaz.org/images/financials/2014%20Annual%20Report.pdf

Government money helps fund Lavoy’s life.  And now tarp man is using some of that government income, not on behalf of his foster kids, which is where it should have gone, but to help fund his sojourn out at the refuge and abandon his family “for as long as it takes” for the ‘greater’ cause of fighting government tyranny. Hypocrisy on a scale I could not begin to  dream up on my own. Can you call the mis-use of those funds fraud?

Got to be great fodder for Lavoy’s next novel. His last one, Only by Blood and Suffering, received such headline reviews on Amazon as “Failure of a prison bound radical thief,” and “Works great as toilet paper!” Liane Allen wrote: “One of TarpMan’s Best: Exactly the kind of book you’d expect from a blue tarp. #tarpman (aka, Lavoy Finicum) is not only living out his fantasy of stealing federal lands, he wrote the book on it! If you need tips on how to survive in an Oregon parking lot, with nothing more than a sleeping bag, a rifle, and a tarp over your head, you need look no further than the self-published ramblings of #tarpman, himself. It’s a gripping tale of a citizen who believes he is exempt from laws (and so are you, as long as you agree with him, and are white!), and can single-handedly bring about a brave new world, where the only people who have the right to preserve federal lands are those who want to destroy them for profit. With the handy tips in this book, you’ll learn amazing facts, like: Which absorbent adult undergarment is best for long-term sitting in sub-freezing temperatures. How to ball up a sleeping bag around your feet for the most effective frostbite prevention. The right brand of blue tarp for your overnight chair sitting needs.” http://www.amazon.com/Only-Blood-Suffering-LAVOY-FINICUM/dp/193773594X/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453156043&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=La+voy+finicum

Can you imagine the dialogue between Lavoy and his kids when he went home to visit a few weeks ago, presumably before the kids were removed.

Where have you been Dad?

Out at a bird refuge.

What were you doing?

Me and my buddies are saving the refuge from those nasty carp scientists.

Like, Wow, Dad.

Now La Voy worries that he and his wife will have to eat “rice and beans.” Maybe while he is out at the refuge he will learn to catch carp to dish out with his crap. I do feel sorry for his wife trying to make do out there in Chino Valley, AZ on her own.

Rice, beans, and carp might not be the mainstay diet in whatever prison I hope Mr. Finicum eventually ends up in.

Perhaps while he is there, he can contemplate the answer to the question I posed in my last blog.

“What does it feel like to sow such hatred and fear?”

 

Bundy Siege Ignites an Emotional Firestorm among Community

During the ten years that I have lived here, tragedy has brought our community together to support one another—with love, kindness, decency, helpfulness, and donations.

Last summer, a wildfire that was located sixty miles north of Burns, Oregon in Canyon City, destroyed over forty homes and outbuildings and burned far into the Strawberry Wilderness. The Mennonite community of Harney County sponsored a large benefit, attended by over 1000 people and raised over $6000 to help Canyon City residents to begin to rebuild. In another disastrous wildfire that occurred a few years back in the southern part of Harney County, ranchers gathered up dozens of semi-truck loads of hay to help feed livestock of affected ranches. I believe Hammonds helped in that effort.

As Georgia Marshall, a fifth generation rancher said in an impassioned Facebook post, “These little communities are primarily ranch communities. They are made up of very hard working families. Faith based, law abiding, proud, compassionate people. Supportive of their families, neighbors and friends. You couldn’t ask for finer people! They are proud of their lifestyle, proud Americans. I watch them stand, as I do, for the National Anthem, hands on hearts, hats removed and their children taught to stand and remove their hats, put their hands on their hearts too.”

You might as well erase her words. Now we have a negative firestorm in the hearts of this community. Hate, meanness, fear, and anger are spreading virtually unchecked, even among those of us not directly in the storm’s path. Our law enforcement people have told us of threats credible enough for leaders in federal facilities or families of lawmakers to be asked to leave town.

My neighbor, an 82-year old widow so frail, so thin and small that a breeze could blow her down, called me, her voice trembling in fear: “I saw strange footsteps in my backyard; my kids told me to keep the doors locked and not let anyone in.” I tried to reassure her: “In our yard, some of the deer footprints look like those of people because they are having a hard time dragging through the deep snow pack here.” I told her that 70- and 80-year old women were the least of the targets of the militia among us.

Many people spoke of how the negative firestorm was affecting them at a large gathering at the high school last week. A 15-year old identifying herself as Ashley cried out “I’m scared. I don’t want to feel scared in my own home.” A brilliant ecologist employed in one of the federal agencies stood up and said that he was more scared living here than when he lived in Trenton, NJ (arguably one of the more unsafe communities, at least ten years ago) and in Tucson where Gabby Giffords and others were shot by a crazed terrorist. Men and women talked of having arguments with friends large enough to separate them.

The Oregonian ran down people in our community who were being followed, raising hackles and fear. http://www.oregonlive.com/oregon-standoff/2016/01/residents_near_oregon_occupati.html

The last time I was at the high school for just as large a gathering was for a spring concert sponsored by The Committee for the Performing Arts. High school kids played oboe, bassoons, and flutes and little ballerinas in their adorable tutus fluttered as little swans.

A  community meeting held on January 20 again revealed the anger and tension, as the siege continues on to the third week.  http://www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/burns-meeting-grows-tense-with-bundy-presence/

Just after the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was occupied, I posed a question on Facebook: “What shall we call the people that are occupying the refuge?” The answers mirror a community divided.

“Brave.”

“Seditionists.”

“A bunch of squatters with guns ransacking the fridge.”

“Peaceful protesters.”

“Thugs.”

“They are men. American citizens. Nothing more and nothing less. They are people standing up for American citizens rights.”

“Terrorists disguised as patriots.”

Some say the agitators have started a dialogue. I say they’ve started a highly destructive emotional firestorm within our community. Some have tried to intimidate federal workers and their families. I say, they are big bullies with big guns—not a great combination to further peace, love and credibility for their cause in our community.

The worst of the flames are fanned by the outside agitators, both within our community and out at the refuge. They want the bully pulpit and they have gotten it. Their anti-government rhetoric has been printed by every major news media in the country. After repeating their views ad nauseum, how many more words can they possibly have?

One thing most of our community is not divided about: we want the outside agitators to go home and leave our community and our beloved bird refuge in peace. We were working out our challenges just fine without them.

Firestorms like this are not easily eradicated. And once they are out, the emotional scars are difficult to heal and cure. Certainly the resiliency of our citizens will help.

I have just one question for Mr. Bundy and his bunch of outlaws: What does it feel like to sow such hatred and fear?

The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer.  His work has been featured in many magazines, including AudobonNational Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from www.SteveTerrill.com.  Thank you.

Bundy Siege—Sorting Carp from Crap

The Bundy group demonstrated its ignorance yet again when they made derogatory remarks about Linda Sue Beck, the highly respected fish biologist of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Linda Beck is the one of the country’s top experts on carp, the invasive fish species that has taken over lakes and wetlands, not just on the refuge, but on private and other public lands here. Maybe the carp number in the millions. Maybe tens of millions.

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Linda Beck with a whopper carp. Photo by Devon Schwartz

Now, the refuge has a new invasive species to deal with—the militant thugs that have taken the refuge in hostage. Although there were only fifteen to twenty when they first occupied the refuge; nine days later, they number as many as 100, multiplying exponentially, just like the neighboring carp.

Linda Beck is “not here working for the people, She’s not benefiting America. She’s part of what’s destroying America.” This according to Jonathan Allen and Jim Urquhart, two Reuters reporters that spent the night with the Bundy bunch. They reported that the Bundy’s poked fun at Beck’s research and mocked the cozy office that she virtually lives in. http://news.yahoo.com/pizza-rifles-tension-night-inside-oregon-protest-055624373.html?soc_src=mediacontentsharebuttons&soc_trk=fb

Within Harney County, Linda Beck is a heroine. She came here fresh out of school with a biology degree and worked herself up to being one of America’s carp experts. She has been tirelessly productive, studying the problem, getting grants, forming alliances with private landowners and other wildlife biologists.

The Bundy crap is fouling the refuge and what it stands for; and besmirching the reputation of a wonderful scientist.

What is So Bad about Carp?

Carp are known among animal and plant scientists as a weedy species. They proliferate quickly, adapt easily to changing conditions, can live in extreme weather temperatures, eat most anything, overrun native plant and animals, and are difficult to get rid of. (Perhaps ironically, humans are considered a weedy species for similar reasons).

Carp are bottom feeders that hang out in mud and sediments and gobble everything they can find—fish eggs and minnows of native fish, insects, water plants, seeds—many of the same foods that birds and ducks eat. And because carp are so aggressive and can out-compete the birds and ducks, they have caused bird populations to drop, and some of the native fish populations, including the rare Redband trout, so prized by anglers. And because carp stir up the sediments, they foul the water, not just the considerable bodies of refuge waters, but water owned by ranchers and other federal agencies.

To add insult to injury, a major problem is what to do with the many weekly pick-up loads of carp once they’ve been caught or killed.

Ranchers, county and city officials and refuge scientists have found the carp to be a common enemy to battle against.

They’ve been joining forces for years and working together to achieve many positive gains. not just to draft an overall management plan that has won awards, but to address the specific problem of the carp. Now they also need to deal with the crap being dished out by the Bundy bunch.

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Malheur wetlands from Buena Vista overlook. On good days, you can look down and see raptors. Photographer unknown.

What’s so bad about the militia?

Gee, let me count the ways. First by taking the laws into their own hands and occupying the refuge, they have usurped the values of law and order that we pledge allegiance to. What they have done is against the law. They are seditionists.

Second, they show a blatant disregard for many of the ways that ranchers and refuge scientists have worked together for years and years to defeat the carp problem and other common rangeland problems, the very thing they say they hope to ‘restore.’ What kind of B.S. is that?

Third, the Comprehensive Conservation Plan that took some six years to draft is very much the people of Harney County’s vision and ideas. It was a huge collaborative project that included just about every facet of the community. Copies of the plan in PDF formats can be accessed: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Malheur/what_we_do/conservation.html. Have any of the Bundy bunch read the plan? I’m sure it’s out at the refuge in plain sight. Shame on the Bundy bunch for mocking their cooperation.

More plainly: Invoking God and the Constitution to return the refuge ‘to the people’ in Harney County is crap.

Like many invasive species, they bully their way in and take over. This particular bunch has eclipsed qualities we prize as human beings: decency, kindness, compassion. Instead, they make people afraid. They sow seeds of divisiveness.

Expense and Income

There are number of issues to consider. One is what the occupation of the militia is costing in dollars. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty put out the figure $75,000 a day. Who knows what the financial costs will really be.

The emotional costs are higher and less able to quantify: A community held in fear and trembling, divided against itself, peace and love shattered, confused and in disarray. The poignant outcry of a 15-year old at a community meeting held by County officials was devastatingly sad: “I’m scared. I shouldn’t have to feel scared in my home.”

On the flip side are two important income sources that may be adversely affected. One is a 5.6 million dollar grant, called the Harney Basin Wetlands Initiative, another collaborative project headed up by High Desert Partnership (http://highdesertpartnership.org/what-we-do/harney-basin-wetlands-initiative/about-hbwi.html). The goal of the grant is to (a) implement a basin-wide carp control strategy and adaptive management to improve the health of wet meadows and other wetlands under b) maintain traditional flood irrigation practices on the Silvies River floodplain and other private lands that sustain important seasonal wetland habitats; and c) improve riverine and riparian habitats across the Harney Basin. The grant application came about as a direct result of the refuge’s conservation plan and vision adopted in 2013.

Part of that vision was “to conserve and enhance the health of Malheur Lake by managing in harmony with ecological forces in collaboration with our neighbors, partners, and friends and to learn from our efforts, successes and failures and the surrounding flood irrigated wet meadows are managed using science based management practices that are common to public and private lands. There is a cooperative relationship between local ranching families and the MNWR staff working to build understanding of how to manage the flood irrigated wet meadows in a manner that reduces carp reintroduction, provides food for migrating water birds, and provides a sustainable economic return for ranching families.

A new business that would add 250 jobs to Harney County is potentially at risk. In Spring of 2015, the Malheur Refuge entered into an agreement to catch and process invasive carp with Silver Sage Fisheries and Nutrient Company, a venture of Oregon-based Pacific Natural Foods. They have already purchased the French Glen Millworks in Hines for their processing plant. Their idea is to use the carp for fish food; and carp remains for fertilizer on land they purchased in Crane for growing vegetables for their soup line. It is quite an elegant solution for private industry, federal scientists and country officials to cooperatively work together.

According to Randy Fulton, Director of Harney County Economic Development, Linda Beck and refuge managers bent over backwards to help the new company. For now, Pacific Foods owner Chuck Eggert has assured Fulton that the project is a go. How long will that be true if the occupation is not ended soon?

Bundy Bunch Go Home

You could say our new invasive creatures out at the refuge seem to be as hell bent as the destructive carp on muddying the waters to the point of destroying positive working relationships between ranchers and scientists. Although there are imperfections, they have made great strides forward—not just to get rid of invasive carp —but other invasive species such as cheatgrass and medusa head that threatened rangelands, and need cooperation, not divisiveness, to combat. But before they can get back to working together on these issues, they now need to get rid of the county’s newest invasive species: the Bundy boys and their very warped sense of God and the Constitution.

Bundy Bunch: Get out of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Militias: Get out of Burns and Hines. You are a destructive force among us. We have been making great strides in solving our problems without you.

The Bundy Bunch: Preposterous Ransom Demands

The Bundy Bunch militia has grown to some 100 people squatting at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a beloved bird paradise. At least another 100 militia from outside Harney County are estimated to be holed up in Burns/Hines.

The Bundy bunch holds the headquarter buildings of the refuge in hostage. Their ransom terms are preposterous: A presidential pardon for Dwight and Steven Hammond (who are now in prison to serve out a five-year sentence for arson and poaching); and return of federal lands to the county or the states or the public (different entities on different days).

In the latest development, Luke Hammill in the January 8, 2016 Oregonian reported that militia from Idaho have arrived to “secure perimeter, prevent a Waco-style situation” at the refuge. (http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/01/oregon_standoff_idaho_militia.html#incart_river_index)

Credible threats to law enforcement, their families, and federal workers continue. some families have left town. Concrete barricades and chain link fencing surround Lincoln School, across from the courthouse, where many lawmakers are temporarily housed. (I’m sure they love the small stall bathrooms and low sinks.) City offices are closed and so is the Hines Post Office (a first). Federal offices, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Agricultural Research Station continue to be closed.

How do these closures affect me? I can’t teach tai chi at town hall. A small thing, but these closures adversely affect everyone in town in small and large ways.  It is difficult for us ordinary folks to have anything else on our minds. There is no other conversation. What is going to happen? When are these militia going to leave? We hope there will be no bloodshed, but emotions are ratcheting up. Will our town ever be the same again?

The FBI is here, as well as sheriffs and lawmakers from others parts of Oregon. A large force, but not quantified. Their goal is to ensure public safety and have no bloodshed. Dave Ward, our County sheriff is being guided by the FBI and told to handle the Bundy’s at the Refuge with kid gloves. He and a few sheriffs from other parts of Oregon drove down and had a polite meeting with Ammon Bundy on Thursday, January 7. Ward asked them to leave; he told them he would provide them with an escort out of the County. Bundy said it ‘wasn’t time yet.’

No lawmaker here is using the word ‘terrorists.’ That’s part of the kid gloves treatment. But they’re not using the word ‘patriots’ either.

The media is here in force, at least 100 print, TV and radio people—liberal to right wing—gamely trying to report on the ‘real ‘story and ‘understand’ the people of our county. They have interviewed many ranchers who are giving their two bits on the bad ‘gummint’ (government, not chewing gum) they say has tyrannized us. The media can’t seem to find too many other people besides ranchers to interview. (In fairness, their backgrounders and commentary on Western rangeland issues has been good.)

No interviews with the 200-300 scientists and engineers, etc. working for the forest service, fish and game, BLM, Malheur Refuge, or another few hundred city, state and county officials (a few of which have offered ‘official statements’). They’ve probably all been counseled to stay out of the way and not inflame already high emotions. For sure many have been threatened and intimidated. And for sure, many are angry and uptight, rightly so. Not just for being out of work, but for being unrepresented and misrepresented. There’s quite a big of misinformation being bandied around and no way to counter it.

One exception are people from the small Paiute Reservation who have put in their two cents about how they occupied the land before the ranchers and homesteaders came here in the late 1800’s. They had a reservation in what is now the core of the refuge before it was dismantled in 1878. Probably not politically correct to say: but they have been marginalized here ever since.

Nor have there been interviews with the writers/jewelers/painters/craftsmen, potters here (with much of their work showcased at Gallery 15). Small business people that own shops are afraid of speaking their mind for fear of losing customers, no matter what side of what fence they’re on. Nobody has interviewed anyone from the Mennonite community. It’s as though nobody besides ranchers exists. The rest of us might as well be ghosts.

One of the unfortunate results of interviews that are skewed towards ranchers is that many are ‘on the side’ of the Bundy Bunch and their anti-government rants. And as with any group, some spew misinformation, opinionated bullshit and mayhem, which the media loves, because they are headline grabbers.

They are not the only ones with an anti-government stance. This evening’s headline story in Huffington Post: “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Friday proposed a series of amendments to the U.S. constitution that would permit states to override the Supreme Court and ignore federal laws.”

An exception to the anti-government talk is Georgia Marshall, a fifth generation Harney County rancher, highly respected, who spoke and wrote eloquently about the collaborative effort to write a very good management plan for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (very much a people’s vision, crafted by a diverse array of Harney County folk in 2013—see previous blog), She spoke with a great deal of heart and compassion about her neighbors the Hammonds, who unfortunately “made wrong choices” and should pay for them.

I was going to go to a meeting this evening of the Harney County Safety Committee, a self-appointed militia that was formed during a meeting on December 15 at the fairgrounds with Ammon Bundy and other militia, who at that time, professed to only be organizing a peaceful march. But you know what, I don’t even want to cross shoulders with them. They are not my type of people. I’m staying home and using my pen (well, my computer anyway).

So here we all are. Two feet of snow on the ground and more predicted. Ice rinks for streets. Ice fog in the morning hours (quite beautiful, if you have never seen it). Temperatures are 15 degrees in town, colder at the refuge.

Some of the humor among us is grim. At dinner, my husband announces he is ‘channeling’ Captain Moroni (one of the refugees at the refuge) to tell him that he should take the Bundy Bunch to San Francisco and take over the Cow Palace.

Friday evening, January 8, 2106.

 

Siege of an Oregon Birder’s Paradise

A few years ago, I had the privilege of touring the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge during the annual April Harney County Migratory Bird Festival  with well-known birding expert Steve Shunk http://www.paradisebirding.com  He took us to a tree in the middle of the refuge where we watched dozens of eagles land and take off, almost as though it was an airport; we spotted Sandhill cranes; rare Trumpeter swans, thousands and thousands of ducks ambling around some of the less visited lakes on the refuge. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/malheur/

Ka Steele 110428421_scaled_293x413

Kay Steele’s lovely photo of a Sandhill crane.

The refuge is a beautiful, vast and lonesome place—of some 187,757 acres—and it was a treat to have a guide who knew its byways. Because of its many lakes, migratory birds stop here to rest, nest, and breed. Watching Ross’ (Snow) geese land and take off by the hundreds of thousands is one of the great wonders of the world. www.migratorybirdfestival.com

 

Ross' Geese

Ross’ geese by the tens of thousands crowd fields and ponds during their annual Spring migration through Harney County. Photo by Kelly Hazen.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the vast populations of waterbirds that were being decimated by the plume traders.

Before ranching and homesteading came to the area, the land was occupied by the Paiutes; and in 1872, they were given what is the core of the refuge as a reservation. They were not safe even there; and many of the Paiutes continued to be terrorized and killed. Sadly the federal government “discontinued” the reservation under pressure from European-American settlers who wanted the land.

That’s a partial history.

A Refuge Under Siege

On January 2, 2016, a few dozen terrorists—soft-spoken, self-righteous men who invoke God and the Constitution—have occupied the refuge headquarters. They’re going to stay, they say, until the lands are returned to the public, and more ranching, mining and logging can occur. They’re thin on the details of how to get rid of the ‘government’ and give the lands back to the people.  They want two ranchers arrested, convicted and re-sentnced to serve a minimum five-years in prison released. Then they’ll leave.

According to Bob Salinger of the Portland Audubon society, “The occupation of Malheur by armed, out of state militia groups puts one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk. It violates the most basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine and holds hostage public lands and public resources to serve the very narrow political agenda of the occupiers.”

 

The Narrows in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Wild bunchgrass and whorled dock line  at the Narrows in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. The photo of this and the feature image is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photogapher, whose works has been featured in such magainzes as Audobon, National Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with gracious permission from www.SteveTerrill.com. Thank you.

The Vision of the Malheur Adopted by ‘The People.’

In 2013, after five-to six years of collaborative, hard work, a diverse array of ranchers, hunters, birders, local agencies and Paiutes, drafted and finalized The Malheur National Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan. the following vision was adopted for Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It is the only refuge in America to adopt a comprehensive plan.  It is very much the work of the people of Harney County.

It’s vision statement in part reads. ..

Together with our surrounding community, partners, friends, staff, and all those who cherish this unique place where desert and water meet…

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge commits to care for, conserve, and enhance the health of the Malheur Lake, Blitzen Valley, and Double-O units, including the playas, dunes, marshes, rivers, meadows, and ponds that are all part of this landscape…

 We will observe nature and manage in harmony with ecological forces, while recognizing and maintaining the Refuge as a key anchor for migratory and breeding waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds, songbirds, and raptors.,,

 We will work diligently to improve the health of the land and water, reducing the destructive impact of carp and other invasive species, addressing imbalances in floodplain function, and restoring the original abundance of fish and wildlife for which Malheur is famous.

We will celebrate and welcome our visitors, noting and protecting the features that draw people again and again—the expansive landscape, the plenitude and diversity of wildlife, and the signs of a timeless history…

 We will allow and enhance opportunities to experience abundance, solitude, and renewal, for people birding, fishing, hunting, and learning on the Refuge. In respect to our ancestors and their fortitude, we will carefully preserve the legacies they left behind on this land…

Collaboration with our neighbors, partners, and friends will be a critical cornerstone in our day to day work; we recognize that nature crosses our boundaries and we can be successful only in partnership. We recognize that our activities are inextricably linked to the health of the local economy. We commit to environmental stewardship and sustainable management.

We commit to learn from our efforts, successes, and failures; to be humble about what we know; and to continuously strive for greater understanding in our stewardship of this remarkable place.

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These are the oddest, most wonderful birds I’ve ever seen. They’re very ordinary looking males until they want to go find a mate—then out comes the plumes and the white tuxedo-like front.  Quite amazing. Photographer unknown.

I’m one of the people that loves this vision and the management plan drafted by the people of Harney County; loves the Malheur Wildlife Refuge; loves finding the sage grouse in full court dress, is gladdened that the refuge exists for me and for the birds that love to visit.

The desire the militants that have occupied the refuge—to return the refuge to the people of Harney County for logging, mining and ranching is a narrow agenda that amounts to a land grab for the few. If the new management plan doesn’t set for the wide agenda of the people of Harney County, what does?

This is not the vision of Ammon Bundy and his cadre of terrorists who have taken siege of the refuge. I’m not one of the people Ammon Bundy and his crew would like.  These thugs and terrorists disguised as patriots have stolen the people’s management vision of the refuge and Harney County’s cultural jewel. Outside agitators invoking God and the Constitution have robbed us of our reputation and good name as hard working, peaceful folk. They have put people out of work and kids out of school.

Am I angry. You betcha. . .