The occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Preserve continues to drag on, at an ever-rising cost to the local community. Now, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has introduced legislation to make sure the rural Oregon community doesn’t end up footing the bill.
If enacted, H.R.4431 would require the federal government to reimburse state and local law enforcement agencies for security costs above their standard budget incurred during the threat to the Malheur preserve — which is federal, not state or local, land.
Then Congressman Blumenauer wants the government to send the bill to the Bundys. Although Blumenauer’s bill would have the federal government immediately reimburse the state and local agencies, section 2 of Blumenauer’s bill would allow the attorney general to sue the occupiers for the cost after the federal government reimburses the local agencies.
“It is not just enough to enforce the law. We should recover damages from lawbreakers who tear up the landscape, degrade wildlife habitat, and destroy property,” Blumenauer said in his address to Congress.
Blumenauer estimates that the occupation has cost state and local law enforcement around $100,000 per week, an estimate backed up by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. With added costs due to the closure of the Bureau of Land Management, as well as the one-week closure of Harney County schools and the extra security there, estimates for the total cost of the occupation climb over $1 million. Every day the occupation drags on, that cost to Harney County rises.
“When we talk in trillions here in Washington, D.C., maybe talk of $100,000 here or $1 million there doesn’t sound like very much. To the State of Oregon it matters. And, for this tiny community, a few hundred thousand dollars has a significant impact on the local taxpayer and their services. They shouldn’t be made to pay the bill,” Blumenauer said in his address to the House floor.
And, if the Government were to give up the land for some reason, Blumenauer points out that it shouldn’t go to people like the Bundys. Instead, Native Americans ought to be “first in line.”
Despite the Bundy’s claims that they want to “return the land to the people,” the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was originally inhabited by the Burns Paiute Tribe, who lived on the land of the refuge and the surrounding area for 6,000 years. Early in the occupation, tribal leaders spoke out against the militiamen.
Although tribal leaders say they never gave up their aboriginal rights to the land and therefore still consider it theirs, they work closely with the refuge, which houses 4,000 tribal artifacts. The armed occupiers posted a video on social media of themselves rifling through these sacred artifacts. In response, the tribe sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife demanding that the ranchers be prosecuted should they “disturb, damage, remove, alter, or deface any archaeological resource on the refuge property.”
Yesterday, a Federal Grand Jury indicted 16 of the Oregon occupiers, including leader Ammon Bundy, on one count of Conspiracy to Impede Officers of the United States. However, four people remain occupying the refuge, despite Ammon Bundy’s instructions to leave. The holdouts now have the blessing of Ammon Bundy’s father Cliven, who was the leader of an earlier armed standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada.
In his address, Blumenauer says a firmer response to Cliven Bundy’s earlier lawbreaking in Nevada might have prevented the Malheur occupation, led by Cliven Bundy’s own family members.