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Clackamas County birders concerned about Malheur refuge occupation


The second day of the new year saw Oregon in the national news, as a group of self-proclaimed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, near Burns, in Eastern Oregon; the group is still on-site.

STEVE BERLINER - A photo of wildlife at the Malheur national refuge by an award-winning Clackamas County photographer.According to a 2008 Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife report, wildlife-viewing tourism accounts for about $8 million of travel spending per year in Harney County.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the vast populations of waterbirds that were being decimated.

“The occupation of Malheur by armed, out-of-state militia groups puts one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk,” wrote local Audubon Society Conservation Director Bob Sallinger, who recommended that local birders avoid the area while under occupation. “We hope for a safe, expeditious end to this armed occupation so that the myriad of local and non-local stakeholders can continue to work together to restore Malheur in ways that are supportive of both the local ecology and the local economy — the occupiers are serving nobody’s interests except their own,” Sallinger added.

PHOTO BY: ROB KERR - An organized group tours the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Jan. 4.Three local residents, who are birders and active in conservation and restoration work in the county, commented on what is happening at the refuge:

Dick and Sally Shook

“We are sorry that the refuge has been chosen as a protest site by the ‘outsiders.’ It is our opinion that the land is rightfully under the control of the federal government as ruled on at least two occasions by the Supreme Court,” noted Milwaukie resident Dick Shook.

“If these people leave before the migration season, and don’t damage any of the facilities, probably they won’t have much of an impact. However, if they don’t leave by March or spring migration time, the county and Burns will suffer economically,” he said.

“The headquarters, where the encampment is taking place, is the small area that attracts the migrating birds because it is the best, maybe only, place where there is a concentration of water and large, varied, green trees where the birds find a place to rest and feed before resuming their flights to their breeding grounds,” Shook said.

He added that this same spot is where birders from all over the country come, as well, and Burns and the surrounding area is where they stay and spend their money.

The Shooks have volunteered at the Malheur Field Station which is three or four miles from the refuge headquarters, where the occupiers have taken their stand. They also did a week of volunteer work at the refuge more than 10 years ago, Shook said.

“One of the many enchanting, memorable incidents was watching at dusk several pairs of short-eared owls in a courtship dance, that included clapping their wings together while flying in and out and around low-growing trees and shrubs. It was always a thrill to sight a new species of bird, for us, such as a Virginia rail or the secretive sora,” Shook said.

Steve Berliner

Berliner, a Jennings Lodge resident, described himself as an avid supporter of the Audubon Society of Portland, and would like for readers to read an online article by Bob Salinger, conservation director for ASP. He suggests readers go to audubonportland.org/ and click on News in the left column, on the second item down.

William Finley is largely responsible for the establishment of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 1908, and he “lived most of his adult life here in Jennings Lodge, and has been an inspiration to me in my photography, as he was one of the earliest bird photographers and writers about birds and other wildlife,” Berliner said.

Finley also was the first president of the Audubon Society of Portland, and Berliner said he was so inspired by his legacy that he purchased Finley’s Jennings Lodge property to live on and care for, back in 2007.

As for the current occupation of the wildlife refuge at Malheur, Berliner said he does not agree “that the federal refuge system should be turned over to local or state agencies/communities.”

He said he is glad this occurred at a time when fewer bird enthusiasts want to visit the refuge in the cold of winter. He hopes that the occupation ends quickly, and does not cause any major changes to refuge management or to the national refuge system.

“I also did not agree with the recent, long-lived ‘occupy’ movement that caused great disruption and cost to citizens, taxpayers and visitors at many locations around the country, including Portland, causing the need for costly restoration where the occupiers ‘lived’ on public property,” Berliner said.

He added, “I don’t believe in anarchy. Lawful and orderly public protest is fine, and the First Amendment is a treasure of our constitutional heritage. Speaking our minds should not disrupt life for our fellow citizens, and be costly to everyone.”