'We're being invaded': Rallies across state urge occupiers to leave Malheur NWR
EUGENE, Ore. - Public lands supporters held rallies across the state Tuesday to support the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which is now occupied by an armed group of protesters.
Rallies were scheduled for Eugene, Portland, Boise, Seattle, Spokane, Medford, Bend and Salem. The Eugene rally took place at the Old Federal Building, 211 E. 7th Ave, Eugene.
"The Malheur refuge gets 58,000 visitors every year. It's one of the most important economic aspects of Harney County and the people who are trying to take those public lands away threaten those kind of benefits," said Doug Heiken with Oregon Wild. "The people who are occupying these public lands are excluding the rest of us. They closed off the refuge so the public cannot access their public lands. I think it's very important that those people move on and hopefully suffer some consequences so that this problem does not repeat itself in the future."
Jan Smith of Cottage Grove said she has concerns as a Native American.
"I have very sincere issues about Burns Paiute, and I stand with them and agree with them," she said. "I don't want those people tramping over their sacred lands and their ceremonial sites."
"I feel like we're being usurped, we're being invaded," said John Prescoe of Springfield. "I feel people are being very presumptuous."
"Public land is why we're here, to make sure we defend it against the privateers. That's who the Bundys represent," said Charlie Knox of Cottage Grove.
Mayor Kitty Piercy addressed the crowd.
"I join you in saying exactly what you've been saying: GO HOME!" the mayor said.
The more than 187,000-acre refuge is a critical stop for migrating birds to rest, breed and nest, advocates say.
Protecting the wetland complex is an agreement between conservationists, the Audubon Society, ranchers, the Paiute Tribe, and the government. The Audubon Society says that agreement is now stronger than ever thanks to the armed militia.
"These lands belong all of us. What this is, is an armed, criminal political occupation of public lands. That should offend everybody," said Bob Sallinger of the Adubon Society of Portland. "Number two, they're destroying public property. I mean they're literally stealing from the public when they go in and take down fences and they destroy habitat and they break into buildings."
The Bundy militia began occupying the site on January 2. They want the land to be returned to local ranchers, claiming the feds illegally forced ranchers from their land.
"When government steps outside of its bounds that the people have given it, that it is the duty of the people to put that government back in its place," Ammon Bundy said last week outside the refuge.