On Saturday, 2 January, a group of armed domestic terrorists took over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to protest the treatment of two cattle ranchers convicted of arson. The group says they are “in it for the long haul,” despite the surrender of the ranchers in question. From an environmental perspective, the occupation of this federally-owned facility poses an immediate threat to the wildlife refuge, but also represents a larger movement to put state and local authorities in charge of public lands, which often results in logging, mining, and drilling. What happens this week in Oregon may set a precedent for how federal lands will be protected in the years to come.
The armed group sparked the hashtags #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS over the weekend, as internet users around the globe had a field day with the debacle. While the internet enjoyed poking fun at the terrorists, wilderness conservationists have become increasingly concerned for the well-being of the 188,000 acre refuge. The Audubon Society of Portland (also in Oregon) issued a warning Sunday that the refuge contains “some of the most important bird habitat on the Pacific Flyway” and the unlawful occupation “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 refuge is also home to one of the biggest wetland restoration efforts ever undertaken.
The group announced Tuesday that they wish to be known as Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. They continue to claim the takeover is in protest of the treatment of two local ranchers, father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were sentenced to five years in prison for arson on federal land. The group is led by 40-year-old Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, who issued the above video message one day prior to the occupation. He is one of three sons of Cliven Bundy, whose family has been grazing cattle on federal land for 150 years. Despite the significant financial breaks the federal government already extends to ranchers, the Bundy family has been refusing to pay land use fees for years.
Bundy, along with a dozen or so others, marched into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday afternoon, heavily armed, and declared they would maintain control of the federal nature facility for “as long as it takes.” The refuge, as well as nearby schools, are closed indefinitely for safety reasons given the heavy weaponry the group brought to the wildlife center. The parks service has confirmed no employees were in the facility when the terrorists broke in. Some media were initially allowed limited guided access to the wildlife refuge, but the group soon encouraged them to leave, and police secured the area to block out the public and the media. CNN reports no police have been seen on the site since Saturday.
On the second full day of the occupation, the terrorists changed their strategy and invited small numbers of media to approach the site. The group also issued a bizarre plea for snacks, as they seem to have been too busy packing up their guns to remember to bring proper supplies to sustain their revolution. The Guardian reported Monday that local authorities intend to cut off power to the facility, which is “in the middle of nowhere” in an area that is already receiving snowfall. It’s unclear whether that has happened.
The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement denouncing the occupation and explaining the trail of environmental destruction that stems from these right-wing groups. “This is the latest in a long string of armed, right-wing thugs attempting to seize America’s public lands and enact their paranoid, anti-government dream bought by guns and intimidation,” said Kierán Suckling, the center’s executive director, in that statement. “We’ve seen it with pipebombs planted on wilderness trails and sent to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. We saw in 2014 with Cliven Bundy and his racist and violent rhetoric in Nevada and now we’re seeing it with his sons in Oregon.” CBD further explains that when federal lands are turned over to the jurisdiction of state and local authorities, environmental destruction typically follows.
The county sheriff issued a statement Monday afternoon, addressed to the terrorist group. The Hammonds, the local ranchers the group is ostensibly supporting, turned themselves in, and the sheriff urged the armed men to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge and “leave our community. Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.”
Lead image via Wikipedia