Monday, May 02, 2016

After occupation, Oregon's Malheur wildlife refuge is returning to 'a new normal'

Less than three months after the end of the 41-day armed occupation that made this remote part of eastern Oregon a symbol of tension between the rural West and the federal government, a very welcome spring has arrived. The occupiers are mostly in jail, the Malheur wildlife refuge is mostly open, and the birds — and birders — are back. "We will not go back to exactly the way it was before," said Chad Karges, the longtime manager of the refuge. "It will be a new normal." For refuge employees, that means ongoing repairs and repainting for the headquarters and visitors center, which are expected to open in late July or early August, although roads are now open in the refuge. It means an even greater emphasis on building relationships with ranchers and other residents who have often been frustrated by the government's expanding presence in the region. It means making a point to acknowledge the tension and speaking carefully because a criminal investigation is underway that could last for years...more 

It's apparently affecting local politics too...

    A recall petition is being circulated to remove the county's top elected official, Judge Steve Grasty. It is being led by a local man who has accused Grasty of muffling public speech about issues raised during the occupation. Grasty, who refused to allow the occupation leaders use county buildings to hold meetings, had announced his retirement before the militants took over the wildlife compound and demanded it and other federal land be transferred to county control. But his term lasts through this year.
    In addition to the recall effort, on May 17, the same day Oregon holds its presidential primary, Harney County will hold a primary to fill Grasty's seat and others on the county commission. Several candidates were motivated to run by the occupation, which they say raised important issues about the control of public land.
    Candidates who have expressed support of the occupiers in some form are running for offices in other Oregon counties and at the state level. Signs supporting Bruce Cuff, who is running for governor with the slogan "Oregon is a sovereign state!" are sprinkled through Harney County.
    "Control of federal lands needs to be given to the state of Oregon so the counties to which that land belongs can manage it for the benefit of their citizens," the Republican says on his website.
    Tom Schaefer, who is running for Grasty's seat, said in an interview last week that he saw the impact of increasing federal regulation while working as a ranch hand across the West for many years and in the fencing business he now runs in Harney County. He acknowledged that he has contracts with the government but said he would be doing better if farmers and ranchers could operate with fewer restrictions.
    "The story remains the same wherever you go: The federal government is pushing people off the land; the jobs are just going away," Schaefer said. "I'm not in any way advocating a takeover of some building or something, but we need to have some push-back instead of just total cooperation. That's not working."


Tim K Smith said...

You will notice that the birds are few and far between on the refuge due to lousy management for the last 40 years. (the birds in the picture are on private ground) Most of the birds are on well managed hay and cattle ground managed and owned by the private sector. I dont know if the real story behind the the Refuge and the reason for the Refuge takeover and subsequent occupation of the County and City by the Feds will ever be allowed to be told!!

Tim Smith
Harney County

Frank DuBois said...

Tim, thanks for your comments. I would like to visit with you, please send your contact info to Frank