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Noted historian speaks in Benton County on Malheur Refuge situation

It was standing room only at the Benton County Historic Museum as residents came to hear noted historian, Dr. William Robbins, a retired history professor from Oregon State University. (SBG photo)

PHILOMATH, Ore. -- Two days after the stunning acquittal of seven people who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last winter, a lecture on that same occupation drew a packed house Saturday in Philomath.

It was standing room only at the Benton County Historic Museum as residents came to hear noted historian, Dr. William Robbins, a retired history professor from Oregon State University.

Robbins looked at the 41-day occupation through the lens of history and said the occupiers should have paid more attention to Harney County history.

“They raised nothing new about protests about federal land in the American west, but time-worn historical complaints about access to western land,” Robbins said.

Robbins said the occupiers wanted to restore what he called a "mythical past" of how much better the refuge and federal lands would be managed in local hands.

The professor argued when private land owners were in charge, you wound up with over-stocked cattle ranges and never-ending fights over water rights.

“The federal government in Harney County has played a far more positive role than the cattle barons who dominated the county from the 1870's into the 1940's.”

Robbins says it was in the 1930s, during the depression, when Civilian Conservation Corps teams came in on restoration projects in the area, projects that led to later expansion of the Malheur Refuge.

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