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Earl B.
Democrat OR 3

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  • Armed Standoff in Oregon

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2016-01-11

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    BLUMENAUER. Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to come to the floor this evening to speak about an armed standoff that is taking place in my State of Oregon.

    This is the ninth day of armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where we have some lawless, reckless behavior on the part of out-of-State zealots who have taken over a Federal resource.

    This is really hard to comprehend for a moment. As has been mentioned by numerous commentators, imagine what would happen if armed protesters who were of a different color or of a different religion occupied a Federal facility in Chicago or Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia. We would not tolerate that behavior. We would watch people move in to remove them. And yet, here, we are talking about the ninth day with impunity these people have undertaken to exert their own vision for an amazing region, this high desert plateau in eastern Oregon, a region of vast, arid, high desert with many key lakes and wetlands, that is the location of a wildlife refuge that was created in 1908 by President Teddy Roosevelt. It was deemed important to protect this critical flyway, this wildlife habitat. We found people there slaughtering wildlife to take the feathers to decorate women's hats.

    Now, I understand that there are some people who are involved who have some frustrations about issues of management of Federal resources. I appreciate that. This is a large, vast country, with 323 million people. In much of the West, a significant portion of the land is owned, managed, and administered by the Federal Government on behalf of all 323 million of us.

    I have no doubt that occasionally there is frustration, there is a difference of philosophy. Occasionally, there are mistakes made. One of the problems we face is that my Republican friends in Congress for years have refused to adequately fund these programs, being able to take care of them appropriately, and that leads to frustrations as well.

    But I think it is important to note that, contrary to the actions of these armed thugs, this land doesn't belong to them. It doesn't belong to the 7,000 residents of Malheur County or even 4 million Oregonians. This land is in trust for 323 million Americans.

    If we overrule these interests and get the Federal Government out of this [[Page H277]] equation, it is not going to revert to a few of the people in the region. The people who have first claim on this land are the Paiute Indians, who resided on it for thousands of years before the Federal Government came in and crowded them out.

    This vast high desert area is worthy of protection, whether it is monument or wilderness. Many Oregonians, including people in eastern and central Oregon, agree that this is worthy of protection. I met with a number in central Oregon this year who were organized, Friends of the Owyhee, for instance, people who think that this largest area in the lower 48 States of pristine beauty, of great environmental import, is the largest unprotected area in the lower 48 States.

    Now, I listened to my friend from Oregon who represents the area, Congressman Walden, express his concern and frustration. He talked about his challenges with the Steens Wilderness Area and talked about his deep concern that the administration may consider a monument in the future for this area, monument status for hundreds of thousands of these acres.

    It is interesting to note, I was involved with that process, but not as deeply as my friend Congressman Walden, who I think can justly claim credit for having been the driving force behind protecting the Steens Wilderness Area. But it never would have achieved wilderness status without the prospect, the looming threat, of a monument status.

    {time} 2145 I was pleased in a small way to have helped facilitate that going forward. We are all better off as a result of the process that took place.

    I was rather surprised that, in the course of his extensive comments on the floor of the House a week ago, while talking about the cooperative effort and the value of the work for Steen's Wilderness, he did not reference at all the process that has been taking place in the Malheur Basin, where we have seen advocates for local ranching interests, environmentalists, and people in the refuge management itself all come together from 2010 to 2013, developing a vision to protect this area, having one of the largest water projects in the country over the next 15 years: a plan, a vision, a commitment. And it was done on a cooperative basis.

    You can review what is going on with the ongoing media coverage or with these armed, out-of-State thugs who have invaded the wildlife refuge with no hint of what has happened there to be able to build a consensus, a vision, to protect and enhance this area.

    The notion somehow that government ought to get out of the way and turn this all over to the private sector is a bit strained.

    First of all, it should be noted that about half the jobs in this little county of 7,000 people are themselves government jobs. Many of them in the wildlife refuge are some of the best jobs in the region.

    They may not make much difference in Portland, Eugene, Seattle, or Washington, D.C., but in a region like this, it is having hundreds of family-wage jobs with good benefits, pensions. It makes a huge difference to the local economy.

    I am concerned that we are just passing over this expectation that we have an opportunity to be able to work with the affected people, move it forward, protecting this area as opposed to having folks who are threatening public employees and who have engaged on a personal basis in threatening people. We have had to shut down a number of government operations. It is sad, it is unfortunate, and it is wrong.

    We don't need outsiders coming into Oregon or politicians enabling or encouraging people to behave in this reckless, lawless fashion. We should, as a matter of fact, cut them off.

    There should be no electricity to the compound. They shouldn't be using the computers of public employees. We shouldn't have them ordering out for pizza or delivering food. This is goofy. It wouldn't happen in any other area if armed thugs took over a Federal facility.

    I have great sympathy with my friend and colleague, Peter DeFazio, who felt that, by the Federal Government not acting on the Nevada lawbreakers who refused to pay the heavily discounted grazing fees--a fraction of what they would pay if it were in private hands--and allowing this to go on unabated, they are encouraging this lawless, reckless behavior.

    I am pleased this evening that I am joined by my friend and colleague from California, Congressman Huffman, who, prior to coming to Congress, had a long, distinguished career dealing with environmental protection and dealing with balancing these interests and solving problems while we protect public interests.

    I yield to the gentleman for his comments this evening.

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