“Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is closed until further notice”, says the website for the Oregon bird sanctuary.
This is the refuge that is currently being held by an armed group. There is much circulating online about the fact that they have guns and want snacks, but very little is mentioned about the location.
The Malheur Refuge was originally founded in 1908, and has expanded since then by government purchase of surrounding lands. This is ultimately what the group holding fort in the wildlife center is acting against: they are acting on behalf of ranchers who want their land back – not just this land, but land in other locations as well.
So why has the wildlife refuge been buying these lands? Conservation.
In the late 19th century, many birds in the area fell prey to hunters who gathered their feathers to sell to the hat industry. The white heron population almost entirely disappeared during this time. Rather than sitting idly by as their local fauna was turned into hats and fascinators, locals took action. Wildlife photographers and the Oregon Audubon Society lobbied for the creation of a preservation area, and in 1908 President Roosevelt established what was then known as the Lake Malheur Reservation.
These days, the area supports “between 5 and 66 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s migrating populations for priority waterfowl” and “over 20 percent of the Oregon population of breeding greater sandhill cranes”. It’s a major bird habitat, but it’s also home to many species of mammals, fish, and insects.
Researchers make use of the refuge for moth, bee and bat inventory studies. According to a recent study, Malheur is one of the few places in the Pacific North-West where the canyon bat is found.
If you want to see the bats or birds on the refuge, you’re going to have to wait for the occupation to end. Don’t send snacks.