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Malheur staff responds to militant occupation of wildlife refuge

An American flag hangs on the sign at the front entrance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
An American flag hangs on the sign at the front entrance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

PUBLIC LANDS -- America has had an earful for more than three weeks from the anti-government, anti-public lands militants taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

And the public has been responding with support for public lands.

Today, the refuge staff has posted an open letter to the public regarding the occupation.  It's their turn to speak:

Dear Friends,
Many have asked us to comment on the ongoing situation at Malheur NWR. We have refrained because we care deeply for the community, and want to ensure our words do not inflame an already heated situation. However, we believe it is important that our views and position are known.

We believe many in the media (as well as those sympathetic to the illegal occupiers) were surprised to hear that the community—while frustrated with the Hammond situation—did not leap to the support of the militants. We are not surprised.

For over 100 years, our Refuge employees have been members of this community. We study, watch our kids play basketball, worship, commune, and interact with our fellow Harney County citizens—not as a ‘we vs. they’—but as an ‘us.’

In a community with nearly 40% of working adults engaged in some form of government, we are all touched or involved in the public process. In Harney County, that means we talk. We have cups of coffee. We have arguments. Together we knit our brows, and together we knit scarves. We understand what those currently occupying the Refuge don’t understand---that Harney County isn’t afraid of tough talk.

We can have effective disagreements and either find resolution, find compromise, or simply agree to disagree. But we do it with respect for the rule of law, and know that our areas of agreement and cooperation are infinitely more powerful than the differences we may face. Mostly, we face those differences together with open dialogue and open gates—not intimidation and threats. We have access to each other, because we are not afraid to confront difficult situations or have difficult conversations.

It pains each of us that we are missing our obligations to you—as church leaders, as 4-H advisers, as friends, and as school volunteers. We hope to be back soon and pick up where we left off.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your support. We know (as you do too) that it is not our Refuge that has been occupied; this is Harney County’s and America’s Refuge.

We are excited to be part of the eventual healing process for our community. We believe that this difficult situation will lead to even stronger bonds between the Refuge and the community that has supported us. We feel for you, because we are you.

We will get through this—because:
We. Are. Harney. County.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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