Hundreds gather in Bend to protest Malheur refuge takeover

One of several rallies held around region; Oregon Wild statement

BEND, Ore. - About 250 people gathered in steady rain Tuesday in downtown Bend to urge an end to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, one of several such events held around the region.

Holding signs that included "Enough if Enough" and "Public Lands: An American Legacy," as well as bird feathers in support of the occupied bird sanctuary, people on hand said they were demanding the government end the refuge takeover.

"I think they're terrorists who are holding everyone hostage with their guns," one participant said at the second such Bend protest in recent days.

Meanwhile, hundreds gathered for a rally at Portland's Holladay Park to show support for the refuge and for the nation's public lands. The Audubon Society of Portland spearheaded the rally, as others were held in Eugene and La Grande, KGW reported.

Also, more than 100 people turned out for a rally in front of the Idaho Capitol in Boise to protest the refuge occupation. Sportsmen, environmentalists and bird-watchers gathered to demand that Ammon Bundy and his group cease their occupation, The Associated Press reported..

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent was on hand at the Bend event and will have more on Fox at 4 and on KTVZ at 5 and 6.

Here is the news release from Oregon Wild about the protests:

"Portland—Thousands of people gathered in communities across the Pacific Northwest today to express support for Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands, and for the US Fish and Wildlife Service employees who protect America's wildlife and wild places.

"Malheur refuge is among the most important wildlife habitat in the Western United States," said Portland Audubon Conservation Director Bob Sallinger. "It also has been the focus of years of important collaborative efforts between the local community, conservation organizations and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The armed, illegal occupation of Malheur is crime that should be ended and prosecuted  so that important collaborative work at this amazing place can continue."

"President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with creating America's modern system of public National Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Refuges, including Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (established in 1908). He envisioned a national public lands system where all Americans would own and have access to our public lands, and a voice in how they were managed.

"Armed militants don't belong on the Malheur refuge," said Jarvis Kennedy of the Burns-Paiute.  "They don't care about helping the local people, or the original owners of the land.  They are trying to intimidate and bully the people of Harney County while they desecrate one of our most important sacred sites."

"On January 2nd, 2016 an armed militant group led by Ammon Bundy seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, threatening violence against any local, state, or federal law enforcement who tried to remove them.  They subsequently demanded that the wildlife refuge, and all public lands in America, be privatized and transferred to logging, mining, and livestock grazing interests whom they defined as "the original owners."

"My great-grandfather homesteaded in Harney County. my step-father was the wildlife biologist at the refuge under John Scharff,  and I still own land and pay taxes in Harney County" said Linda Neale, a speaker at the rally. "I care deeply about the people, the land, and the refuge. Armed occupation does not help any of us there. I am proud of the collaborative efforts between the ranchers, the refuge and environmental groups like those reflected in Harney County's High Desert Partnership. That is what we all need to support."

"Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crown jewels of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and provides vital habitat for more than 300 species of wild birds.  Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and tens of thousands of shorebirds rely on the refuge, and it supports the largest population of sandhill cranes of any refuge in the Western United States.  In addition to its importance for wildlife, the refuge draws 65,000 visitors to Harney County each year, generating $15 million for the local economy.

"The illegal occupiers of Malheur have tried to turn it, and public lands across America, into places of conflict. In fact, they are increasingly places of consensus and collaboration.  A collaborative group on the Malheur refuge brought ranchers, the Paiute, conservation groups, and local, state and federal agencies together to develop and implement long-term restoration projects on both public and private lands. On the neighboring Malheur National Forest, the work of the Blue Mountains Forest Partners, which includes loggers, ranchers, and conservationists, has been a national model for collaboration.  In 2012, the Forest Service awarded that group a $2.5 million, ten-year grant--an investment that will result in 154 new jobs and restore almost 272,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Grant and Harney Counties.

"Public lands are for all of us," said Sean Stevens, Executive Director for Oregon Wild. "They are where we take our families to hike, fishing, hunt, and camp, and they are the engines that drive Oregon's modern tourism and outdoor recreation economy.  When people talk about giving away public lands like Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, they are talking about giving away the things that make Oregon a special place."

"Rally attendees voiced their support for the Malheur, and for public lands across America.  Privatization would deny Americans the ability hike, fish, and camp in places like Crater Lake National Park, Mount Hood National Forest, and the Wild Rogue Wilderness.  It would have devastating economic consequences on tourism and recreation businesses.  A 2012 report by the Outdoor Industry Association, the trade group representing companies including Columbia, Keen, The North Face, Danner, and Patagonia, found that outdoor recreation in Oregon generates 141,000 direct jobs, and $955 million in state and local tax revenue.

"Nothing is more American than our national public lands, where people of all means can hunt, fish, paddle, camp, hike and watch wildlife," said Bob Rees, Executive Director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, one of the oldest conservation and sport fishing advocacy organizations in the Pacific Northwest.  "We are here today to support America's National Parks, Forests, Wildlife Refuges, and other public lands, and to say ‘hell no!' to anyone who wants to privatize them or weaken conservation laws."

"Refuge rally participants also voiced their support for the employees of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), who work everyday to protect the fish, wildlife, and wild places that belong to all Americans.  Threats of violence against USFWS staff by those opposed to conservation have long been a problem in Oregon.  The armed militants illegally occupying Malheur Refuge,and their supporters, have forced some refuge staff to relocate their families and children in response to threats of violence.  "

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