Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Refuge Employees, Occupation Supporter Take Stand In Malheur Refuge Trial

The testimony of two Malheur National Wildlife Refuge employees on Monday offered firsthand accounts of how work on the refuge was affected during the 41-day takeover of the grounds. Fish biologist Linda Beck testified that the occupation of the refuge delayed work she was doing to deal with invasive carp. Testifying for the prosecution in the trial of seven occupiers, Beck said she and other U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service workers planned a large operation to reduce the carp population in Malheur Lake and its tributaries at the end of January 2016. But Beck, who works at the refuge and lives on a family ranch in Harney County, said she could not get onto the refuge to perform the removal duties because of the 41-day takeover. Prosecutors showed photographs of Beck’s office that appeared in the media. Several photos showed Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and Shawna Cox using her space. There were also several photos of people holding weapons in her office and guns leaning against the wall in her workspace. Prosecutors asked Beck whether the weapons were hers. Her response: “I’m not allowed to have guns in my office.” She also described her return to the refuge on Feb. 17 after the occupation ended: “I would describe it as completely trashed,” she said. Also taking the stand for the prosecution was Carla Burnside, an archaeologist at the refuge. The focus then shifted from refuge employees to another group — the Burn Paiute tribe, whose artifacts are stored on the refuge. Burnside said an unwritten agreement between the refuge and the tribe had been in place since she arrived at the refuge in 1990. As artifacts are discovered, they are stored at the refuge because the tribe wants the items to remain in the Harney Basin, Burnside said. The prosecution had shown video of occupiers Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and David Fry going through artifacts. One of the day’s final witness, however, was not a refuge employee, but instead a soft-spoken, 23-year-old Harney County resident who participated in the occupation. Nick Bleuler, who has not been charged in connection with the takeover, told the court that his fiancée drove him to the refuge during beginning of the occupation. As the couple pulled up to the refuge in a Ford Crown Victoria, a car often used by law enforcement, Bleuler said a circle of men pointed their guns at them. Bleuler said he thought the group reacted that way because of the model of the car — they thought he was law enforcement. Bleuler’s fiancée backed up the car and the two left the refuge...more

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