Local members of the group Great Old Broads for Wilderness joined to send a strong message to the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, south of Burns in Harney County on Friday. They called them bullies and demanded that they leave the refuge. They also demanded prosecution of the occupiers for confiscation of refuge buildings and unauthorized use of public vehicles, among many other potential crimes.
Nearly 200 public lands supporters, led by the Great Old Broads, gathered in downtown Bend to protest the unlawful occupation led by the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Among the speakers were two Harney County residents. Julie Weikel is a longtime rancher and supporter of the refuge. Her property is adjacent to the refuge boundary on the north. She says that the refuge doesn't deserve the negative spotlight the Bundys have portrayed. She acknowledges that the refuge has worked hard to collaborate with the Harney County community and has done a good job. She points out that the employees of the refuge are intertwined with nearby residents at a community level, a school level, and that the occupation is just "so wrong." Weikel says she wants them physically gone from her backyard.
"I'm not a fearful person. I live 30 miles from the nearest grocery store. I have never locked my doors in my entire life until last Monday night, and I don't choose to live that way. I just want them out of there." Weikel says it's been a gut-wrenching experience for local residents. She notes that local law enforcement officials are being threatened, and that they are under a lot of pressure to maintain public safety.
Noting that the Bundys want to take the refuge and federal public lands to transition them to state or private control, Weikel says these lands became federal because the states couldn't afford to manage them. She says the state can't afford to maintain the cost of what it takes to sustain grazing essential to ranchers depending on federal lands.
Rynda Clark, an organizer of the Great Old Broads rally, says she can't imagine losing federal public lands. "It's important to keep these lands public so children can have a wildlife experience now and in the future."
Duncan Evered, caretaker of the Malheur Field Station since 1997, told the rally, "We want the refuge back as soon as possible without violence under any conditions." Evered was forced to leave his residence on the refuge and he says that law enforcement officers continue to tell him that it's not safe to return. He emphasizes patience to resolve the standoff peacefully. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt for the primary protection of birds. The refuge is used by over 300 species of birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway from Patagonia to Alaska and use the refuge as a rest stop, breeding and nesting ground.