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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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Southern Oregon rallies in support of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Rally in support of public land, social justice, and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Ashland, Oregon, on January 23, 2016.

More than seventy people came out on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Ashland, Oregon yesterday to show support for the people of Harney County, Oregon, where an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is about to enter its fourth week. The lives of many people in Harney County have been severely disrupted as this armed occupation of public land drags on.

The rally was organized by Oregon Action — their mission: “Led by people of color, immigrants and refugees, rural communities, and people experiencing poverty, we work across Oregon to build a unified intercultural movement for justice.” With a strong social justice message, Oregon Action organized the rally with multiple speakers who each touched on the far-reaching impacts the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is having on the people of Harney County, as well as the country as a whole.

The rally showed support for the Burns Paiute Tribe and
for their ancestral lands that are now the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, occupied by armed militants. Burns Paiute Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique has
said, “Armed protestors don’t belong here. By their actions, they are
endangering one of our sacred sites. This is still our land, no matter who is
living on it.”

Burns Paiute Tribal Council member Jarvis Kennedy asked at a press conference earlier this month: “What if
it was a bunch of natives that went out there and overtook that? Would they let
us come into town and get supplies? They just need to get the hell out of here.
We don’t want them here.”

According to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Facebook page, “With the full knowledge and blessing of the Burns Paiute tribe, the Refuge is home to a number of artifacts that have been found on the Refuge during studies carried out to learn more about the history and use of the lands by their ancestors. These artifacts have been curated and stored under lock and key, until the illegal occupants violated the security of the Refuge. 

Moreover, the cultural resources of the Burns Paiute Tribe go beyond archaeological artifacts and objects from the past. Burns Paiute tribal members continue to utilize resources on the lands of what is today the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as they have for thousands of years to make traditional baskets, cradleboards, tule mats, and even boats.”

The themes of social justice were woven into the themes of environmental justice at the rally on Saturday, where people held signs declaring “Grebes not Guns,” referring to a bird species that relies on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for habitat. Another sign read, “Malheur is for the birds,” which it is. Malheur Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, as the Lake Malheur Bird Reservation.

“The sedges were full of birds, the waters were full of birds: avocets, stilts, willets, killdeers, coots, phalaropes, rails, tule wrens, yellow-headed black birds, black terns, Forster’s terns, Caspian terns, pintail, mallard, cinnamon teal, canvasback, redhead and ruddy ducks. Canada geese, night herons, great blue herons, Farallon cormorants, great white pelicans, great glossy ibises, California gulls, eared grebes, Western grebes — clouds of them, acres of them, square miles — one hundred and forty-three square miles of them!”

 – Dallas Lore Sharp  – 1914 – Lake Malheur Bird Reservation

Many people attended the rally simply to show support for public land. The occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, and the declaration of the armed militants that the Refuge should be given to local ranchers, has alarmed a majority of the country who love public land and don’t want to see it privatized. America’s public land is what makes this country so spectacular, and it is these public lands that are the cornerstone of healthy, resilient ecosystems and wildlands. KSWild recently led about thirty people on a short walk to Congressman Walden’s office in Medford to hand over petitions in support of public land. According to KSWild, “It’s not just militants that want to give away public lands. U.S. Congressman Greg Walden recently proposed legislation to give away over a quarter-million acres of National Forests in southern Oregon and northern California.

Longtime social justice and environmental activist,
Dot Fisher-Smith, showing her support for public land.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been on the ground in Burns, OR, directly confronting the armed militants and keeping the public informed about what is happening out there. The Center’s director, Kieran Suckling, is providing detailed dispatches from the Refuge on the Center’s Facebook page. The Center had this to say about the rallies in support of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge: “These lands belong to all Americans and hundreds of people turned out today to show their love for these wild places and to send a clear message to the people who illegally invaded Malheur that it’s time for them to end this fiasco and get off the refuge.”

The issue of public lands grazing has been at the forefront of the Malheur occupation, highlighting the need for change and an update of grazing policy to reflect current ecological knowledge and science. Public lands grazing is a major ecological concern in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion, but thankfully longtime environmental activist, Felice Pace, founded the Campaign to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California. Through on-the-ground monitoring and documentation, Felice’s group documents the impacts of public lands grazing all over the Klamath-Siskiyou region, including impacts to the Siskiyou Crest. I have helped Felice with some of his field work, and he is doing excellent work. Take a look at his detailed report from the 2015 field monitoring season on the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) website.

My sincerest gratitude goes out to everyone working for a peaceful solution to this egregious armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. I look forward to the day when I can head out there to enjoy the phenomenal population of migratory birds stopping at the Refuge along the Pacific Flyway. The Malheur Wildife Refuge has received more attention than ever, and there is sure to be a huge spike in visitation to this Refuge, contributing to the local economy and supporting Harney County. This will happen as soon as the militants go home!

For more information check out Oregon Public Broadcasting’s (OPB) excellent reporting on the issue as well as this great expose of the Hammonds.