Concerns about the ongoing armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon have twice led to the closure of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge near Cheney.
The 18,000-acre preservation area south of Cheney was closed to the public Jan. 29-31 and Friday through Sunday “out of an abundance of caution” to the public and refuge employees, said Megan Nagel, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Turnbull reopened to the public Monday. A message posted Friday on the refuge’s website said it was closing due to “the ongoing situation” at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. A similar statement was posted online explaining the closure of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge near Nampa, Idaho.
Nagel declined to say what prompted the reassessment leading to the refuge reopening.
Frank Harrill, spokesman for the FBI, said Monday his agency knew of no credible threat or danger to the public at Turnbull. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said no arrests had been made in connection with the refuge closure.
Molly Zammit, president of the nonprofit Friends of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, said this weekend’s closure has created uncertainty for programs scheduled at Turnbull this spring, including hikes planned for mid-March.
“I really feel that the tactics being used by folks who are advocating turning public lands back over to the states, or private landowners, are the kinds of tactics that don’t really solve issues. They just create bigger issues,” Zammit said.
Turnbull, established by an executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937, is esteemed by groups including Zammit’s for its spacious wetlands that serve as mating grounds for migratory birds.
The Friends of Turnbull plan a nature hike at the refuge March 19. Zammit said she was told to monitor the refuge’s website to determine whether the site would be open and available for the hike, which falls on a Saturday.
“I’m feeling bullied,” Zammit said, referring to the occupation in Oregon that has prompted the security concerns. She said she hoped protesters and the federal government “sit down and solve these problems through the rule of law.”
Armed protesters who said they were occupying the Oregon refuge in opposition to federal ownership of ranch lands took control of Malheur on Jan. 2. Five protesters, including Ammon Bundy, were arrested near the refuge Jan. 26. One of the occupiers, LaVoy Finicum, was killed by federal authorities during the arrest.
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