Malheur Madness

Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

I was in Costa Rica with friends and family when a group of armed malcontents took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. At first I laughed them off as a joke. After all, how else could one reasonably react to the occupation of an unoccupied building on a refuge in the middle of an Oregon winter? Then I dismissed it as a whiny, childish tantrum doomed to failure—a bunch of entitled, self-important blowhards waving their guns around and screaming about how unfairly they and everyone like them are being treated. Surely, I thought, this can’t possibly last.

Now, as the occupation approaches the one-month mark, I’m looking at it much differently. I won’t claim to be an expert on ranching, and I’m not going to get into the politics of the situation or the issues—real or perceived—that these ranchers have with the federal government and its apportioning of land. I don’t care about them or their complaints, and I wouldn’t shed a tear if they all froze out there at Malheur. If that seems like a callous disregard for human life, then fine. Whatever happens to them, they brought on themselves.

What I care about is this: they’re on my land, and I want it back. The national wildlife refuge system was created to set aside wild lands for preservation and public visitation. Every single refuge belongs, not to the federal government, as these occupiers would have you believe, nor to them, as they’d like, but to us, the citizens of the United States. In a very real sense, this land is ours, and we should all demand that these armed occupiers be removed and made to feel the full weight of justice’s hammer. The local community doesn’t want them there, the ranchers who they’re ostensibly fighting for have publicly distanced themselves from Bundy and his gang, and whatever minimal support the occupiers had at the beginning has all but vanished into the same insubstantiality that undergirds their cause. Return the land to the people? Please. It was already ours. This is nothing more than a glorified land grab, the transfer of a public resource into the hands of a few ranchers to do with as they please.

And who suffers the most in the end? The animals—the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians who rely on Malheur’s bounty and protection for survival. That’s why I want the land back—not for any greedy, self-serving reason, as is the case with Bundy and the rest, but for the non-human animals who, for at least part of their lives, call Malheur home. These men aren’t just threatening the federal government or the citizens of this country, they’re threatening the lives of countless creatures for whom refuges like Malheur are critical—and the longer the occupiers are there, the more damage they do and the more they put those lives at risk.

As this travesty stretches on, my real worry is this: Malheur is a tipping point, a wedge being driven between those who want federal lands put back into the hands of the states to exploit and abuse, and those who understand the importance of preserving wild lands and appreciate that this Earth belongs to more than just us—that the non-human inhabitants have as much right to live their lives free of harm and persecution as we do. If we cave to these criminals and thugs here, if Malheur is unjustly stripped from our hands and given to those who care only for themselves, what’s next? My fear is that, far from an isolated incident, the dismantling of Malheur would be the first step in the unraveling of the entire national wildlife refuge system and the loss both of our most cherished places and all the animals who depend on them. It would end a century-long commitment to conservation, and reverse the efforts of countless people who’ve worked tirelessly to restore at least a piece of the wild spaces we once had.

These lands are our heritage, our birthright, and no band of armed bullies has the right to take them from us, or to run roughshod over them and doom countless species of birds, mammals, and a myriad of other creatures—these marvels of nature, deserving of our respect, admiration, and care—to oblivion. As always, the choice is ours, but history will not look kindly on us if we fail them.

It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to take Malheur back.


There are many actions we could take, but at this point the most effective means of showing your support is through a donation to the Friends of Malheur National Wildllife Refuge, which you can do here.


20 thoughts on “Malheur Madness

  1. Good for you, Devin for speaking up! I couldn’t agree with you more! and you’re right that we need to take this seriously. Hope you get a bunch of others to also support your position. Thanks for speaking up on behalf of all the wild things!

  2. Absolutely 100% agree with you. This ought to have been dealt with swiftly right at the beginning. I simply do not understand why this bunch of greedy “men” were not quarantined; the utilities, cell phone, and internet access cut; and them arrested, one-by-one, as they left the refuge.

  3. Great post. We need a groundswell of public support to keep our public lands public. Marco Rubio promises to sell them off if elected. I haven’t heard what the other candidates have said. American Lands Council, partially funded by the Koch brothers think tank Americans for Prosperity, lobbies for transfer of public lands to state control. I haven’t verified, but have heard that Oregon wouldn’t be able to afford the management of the land and the clean up costs associated with previous mining operations. In addition, it appears that private organizations are eager to have access to mining both gold and uranium in Eastern Oregon. I agree that we are at a tipping point. Will Democracy or big money win?

    Costa Rica is inspiring. Their land protections and commitment to alternative energies are to be emulated.

    • There was a comment on a similar post regarding Uranium One Corp having rights to land in eastern Oregon. I agree a land grab by Kochs and a dozen other wealthy Americans want the public lands for mining, logging, cattle grazing and development. Malhuer occupiers are funded by whom?

  4. Excellently worded. (Just shared it to my Facebook. FYI: I did my Masters Thesis at Malheur back in the late 70’s. I need to return)

  5. It is especially sad that ignorant extortionists who intimidate by threat of gun violence are treated with such deference. Any expression of outrage Devin is certainly welcome and as far as human life, these cretins are lamprey parasites.

  6. Strongman well written article! My only quibble is calling these people ranchers. I grew up ranching and have never met a rancher lacking respect for the land, commitment to family and community, and filled with gratitude every day for the honest blessings of life. These individuals have exhibited nothing that would lead me toward dignify them as gentlemen, patriots, organized milita, and certainly not ranchers.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’ve only met a few true ranchers (like yourself) in my life, and what always impressed me was their respect for and love of the land. It’s clear that these armed militants do not share that, and calling them ranchers does a disservice to the rest of you–for which I sincerely apologize. I was incredibly angry and frustrated when I wrote this, and was trying to tone down my vitriol a bit–especially since what I really wanted to call them probably shouldn’t be printed. Thank you again for reading and commenting, and for clarifying and upholidng the true ranching ethic.

  7. Well spoke. Thank you. I have not been but the pix
    I have seen on this site and others on FB make me want to visit..

    Devin Griffiths:’My fear is that, far from an isolated incident, the dismantling of Malheur would be the first step in the unraveling of the entire national wildlife refuge system and the loss both of our most cherished places and all the animals who depend on them. It would end a century-long commitment to conservation, and reverse the efforts of countless people who’ve worked tirelessly to restore at least a piece of the wild spaces we once had.

    Bundy must go..

  8. I agree with your concerns but have to point out that that land was originally Native American land and the Paiutes continue to have a legal stake in the sacred areas and certainly in the many artifacts that they have allowed to be stored at the sanctuary. The representatives of the tribe have collaborated with the federal government on ways to conserve this land and the wildlife it supports. The occupation of the sanctuary is deeply disturbing to and resented by the Paiutes and by Native Americans across the country.

    • You’re absolutely right, Ken. The Paiutes were the original human occupants, and they have more claim to it than anyone. When Bundy and his clan speak of returning the land to the people, it’s the Paiutes he should be speaking of (of course he’s not, but that’s another issue). There are so many issues with this occupation that I could’ve written a book on it and not covered them all. My primary concern, though, is for those who don’t have a voice, or whose voices aren’t being heard loudly enough–the animals. Even before the Paiutes, they were the original occupants, and of all the claims being made on this land, theirs is the most valid and least recognized.

  9. Great article summing up the frustrations of many, many folks. My biggest fear in this dragging on so long is that it will inspire and, any day now, we will hear of another refuge being taken over by these greedy, ill-informed, good for nothings with their fake movement .

    • From my point of view, it is a misconception to see this occupation as in any way, an Oregon issue, and so inappropriate to punish Oregon and its residents. Oregon, and its image, is being sullied by these out-of-state terrorists’ (terroirists?). Yes, there are individuals in Oregon that subscribe to that same disconnected ideology, but they are in no way representative of more than a tiny fraction of Oregon’s diverse population. They are seeminly unwitting mercenary foot soldiers for the “rape, pillage, and plunder” credo of oligarchs, anxious to de-regulate, de-democratize, de-centralize society.

      • I completely agree, Jerry, and I’m glad you brought this point up. If anything, it seems that most of Oregon’s citizens want nothing to do with Bundy and his ilk, and are in fact vehemently opposed to them and the entire occupation. It’s not hard to see why: this publicity-stunt-disguised-as-patriotic-revolt is hurting the local populace in many ways, and will continue to affect them negatively as long as the militants remain at Malheur. I live out on the east coast, and it’s very frustrating for me to see this continue and not be able to do anything about it other than raise my voice and donate to the Friends of Malheur. Perhaps, though, it’s time for all of us to make a trip out there and show up en masse outside the refuge. There are, after all, far more of us than there are of them.

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