PORTLAND, Ore. October 28, 2016 – The trial of seven people involved in the armed takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon came to a close last night with the announcement of a jury verdict acquitting the defendants. The trial included federal charges brought against Ammon Bundy, the leader of an anti-government group and his brother Ryan and five other refuge occupiers for conspiring to impede federal employees from conducting their duties through the use of force, intimidation and threats.
Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:
Last night’s verdict is a defeat for all Americans who value and cherish our public lands and the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Bundys and the other occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are a tiny minority that are far out of step with the American people, who appreciate the benefits of our nation’s public lands for public recreation, wildlife, and many other purposes.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen repeatedly in Congress this session, the armed takeover of this refuge was not the first or only type of attack on America’s public lands. By exonerating the leaders of this illegal occupation of federal property, the jury’s misguided verdict will encourage further attacks by lawless individuals on our wildlife refuges, national forests and national parks and the dedicated federal employees that manage them for the benefit of all Americans. Today is a day of national sorrow for all who care about our country’s magnificent public lands, and a time for deep concern among our nation’s law enforcement officers who will confront increased threats of violence across the West.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the only network of federal lands dedicated specifically to wildlife conservation—and the largest system of its kind in the world. President Teddy Roosevelt established the first refuge in 1903 to protect birds from market hunting on a small island in Florida. The system has since grown to more than 560 refuges, covering hundreds of millions of acres of land and waters in all 50 states, every U.S. territory and the western Pacific Ocean, providing essential habitat for America’s astounding diversity of wildlife. In addition to serving a vital role in conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System supports innumerable recreational opportunities and generates billions of dollars in local, sustainable economic activity.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a National Wildlife Refuge located roughly 30 miles south of the city of Burns in Oregon’s Harney Basin. Administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge was created in 1908 by order of President Theodore Roosevelt to protect habitat for diverse waterfowl and migratory birds, and grew to encompass 187,757 acres of public lands. A popular site for birding, fishing, hunting and hiking, the refuge gained widespread attention in early 2016 after its headquarters complex was occupied by armed anti-government protesters.
Attacks on Federal Public Lands
The jury verdict comes at a time when publicly owned lands and waters, and the laws which help conserve these vulnerable areas, are under relentless attack. The extreme social and political movement to divest our federal public lands has given rise to repeated attempts to seize land from public ownership or management and fueled misguided efforts in Congress in support of these objectives. For example, an amendment passed by the Senate last year would have authorized the sale, transfer or exchange of federal lands to state and local governments that, in turn, could sell the lands for use in harmful resource extraction activities. The Refuge System has become a particular target of this unfortunate agenda, from the prolonged occupation of Malheur Refuge to a concerted congressional attempt to dispose of thousands of acres of Vieques Refuge in Puerto Rico.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org. For the latest news from Defenders, follow us at@DefendersNews.