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Conservation groups denounce Oregon occupiers, saying this is not what Republican Teddy Roosevelt envisioned at all

By Lisa Rein
The Washington Post

Conservation groups are bristling at the takeover by antigovernment protesters of a federal wildlife sanctuary in Oregon, warning that the armed group is endangering the refuge’s fragile ecosystem.

Conservation groups are bristling at the takeover by antigovernment protesters of a federal  wildlife sanctuary in Oregon, warning that the armed group is endangering the refuge’s fragile ecosystem.

“The occupation of Malheur by armed, out of state militia groups puts one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk,” the Audubon Society of Portland said in a statement on the occupation, now in its third day.

But that’s not all that conservationists are decrying about the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — one of the first wildlife sanctuaries created by President Teddy Roosevelt — whose main building is occupied by a group of self-proclaimed militiamen. They say the takeover stemming from the arson conviction of two local ranchers who set fires to federal lands is at odds with conservative principles of land preservation.

“People need to understand that the Bundy strain of radicalism is anti-American and dangerous,” David Jenkins, president of Virginia-based Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, said of the occupiers in a statement, referring to Aamon Bundy, who is leading the group.

“They are trampling on the rights of every American. They are the opposite of conservative, and they will continue to bully, threaten and test the limits of civil society until they are stopped,” Jenkins said, urging the Obama administration to follow Roosevelt’s advice that the law “must be enforced with resolute firmness.”

The nonprofit, grass-roots group says its mandate is to “challenge notions that impede fulfillment of our stewardship obligation, including those advanced under the guise of conservatism.”

The Audubon Society wrote that the occupation “violates the most basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine and holds hostage public lands and public resources to serve the very narrow political agenda of the occupiers."

“The occupiers have used the flimsiest of pretexts to justify their actions — the conviction of two local ranchers in a case involving arson and poaching on public lands,” the society wrote. “Notably, neither the local community or the individuals convicted have requested or endorsed the occupation or the assistance of militia groups.”

So far, the standoff at the migratory bird sanctuary south of Burns., Ore., founded by Roosevelt, a Republican, in 1908 and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been peaceful. But the militants say they want the U.S. government to relinquish control of the refuge and turn it over to locals for ranching. Conservation groups say there’s no telling what could happen on the property, which is visited by not just local wildlife lovers but tourists from around the world.

Groups that care for the land, raise money for restoration projects and track wildlife at Malheur are worried about how respectful the protesters will be, given their opposition to the refuge’s roots in federal land preservation.

Over the weekend, members of the nonprofit Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Oregon sanctuary’s active friends group, posted several withering statements about the protesters on social media.

“Malheur is a national treasure that belongs to the American people and this hostile group’s agenda is to put it into private hands for local profit,” wrote Gary Ivey, president of the nonprofit, asking others to join the group or send donations, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Dee Clark, another supporter, wrote, “God bless the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and protect it from these adolescent goons who have no understanding of civics.”

But by early Tuesday, the group had backed down from the public criticism, posting this message on its Facebook page: “We were asked by the agencies to take down our previous post regarding the ongoing occupation of Malheur Refuge.”

“We hope you will still consider joining our Friends group or making a tax-deductible donation to show your solidarity with Malheur Refuge.”

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