For more than two weeks, a group of armed militia members has occupied the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a protest of government overreach. The issue is highly contentious and has deeply divided opinions in rural Harney County, although law enforcement officials have repeatedly made requests for the militia members to leave. One group of hunters recently traveled to the refuge and symbolically removed the canvas covering up the entrance sign to Malheur, calling the militia occupation ” an extremist attempt to grab our public lands.” The effort was led by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), a hunting and conservation organization dedicated to preserving public lands and the right of sportsmen to access them.
“This past week, a group of Oregon and Washington BHA members joined-up at the extremist-controlled Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon to make a strong stand against those who seek to seize our American public lands,” stated the organization, which recently uploaded a video of members protesting the occupation of the refuge.
You can see that video below:
BHA was one of the first conservation groups to publicly criticize the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Despite resentment from local residents and calls from many organizations asking for the group’s ouster, the militia still enjoys support from many who sympathize with their plight. This includes some hunters, but BHA has firmly stated its opposition to the militia takeover.
“National wildlife refuges like Malheur are a treasure shared by all Americans,” stated BHA President and CEO Land Tawney in a press release. “The actions being perpetrated by extremists in Oregon are the misguided actions of a fringe element—and should be condemned by sportsmen and all citizens in the strongest terms.”
The militia group is led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy, who was at the heart of the Bundy standoff in Nevada in 2014. The group moved into the refuge in protest of the charges against two local ranchers, who were convicted for unlawfully setting fire to federal land—which local hunters alleged was to cover up poaching. The militia also recently demanded that the federal government cede ownership of the wildlife refuge, a point that has alienated many conservationists.
“The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a popular hunting area for waterfowl and upland gamebirds,” stated Tawney. “It is one unit in a system of millions of acres of public lands on which American families depend for access to and opportunity in the great outdoors.”
So far, the occupation has not resulted in violence, but some conservation groups worry about damage to the refuge and what a long term closure could mean. The Guardian reported that the militia may have paved a new road though a part of the refuge and destroyed a fence to allow cattle to graze on public lands. The US Fish and Wildlife Service strongly condemned these actions, but officials have yet to take any serious action against the militia.
BHA urged “cool, patient heads” in dealing with the issue.
“As sportsmen and conservationists, we urge the occupiers to end this fool’s errand,” said Brian Jennings, BHA’s Oregon outreach coordinator, “and we urge the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to keep their employees safe, be patient and thoroughly enforce the law.”
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