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Earl B.
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  • Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2016-01-07

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    BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, with the odd drama playing out in Oregon where armed thugs have taken over a Federal wildlife facility, it is important to reflect on what the wildlife refuge system is all about.

    If these people had any argument with the President, it was with President Roosevelt, who 108 years ago established the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a response to protect natural resources, especially the slaughter of wild birds for feathers to adorn women's hats.

    It is ironic that the President, who in his younger days participated in the slaughter of over 6 million buffalo that roamed the Midwest plains on a magnificent ecostructure, realized the necessity of protecting these resources. Today we benefit from the foresight of this conservation President who provided the cornerstone of environmental protection that enriches us all.

    The notion that somehow this is the ``wild west,'' where people can do with public land what they want, is thoroughly discredited. This mind-set from the 1800s that there were endless, wide-open spaces, where people could do what they wished, when they wished, where they wished, is tinged with regret and tragedy. We took away the land from Native Americans that our government had given to them in solemn treaty, ratified by Congress.

    The mind-set that public lands of the West were to be exploited as rapidly as possible is still embodied in the Mining Act of 1872, which essentially allows anyone, including foreign mining operations, to exploit our country's mineral resources at basically no cost and with no enforceable obligation to repair the damage they inflicted. The West is now blighted with thousands of abandoned mines and oil and gas wells that will risk being a permanent scar on the landscape. While private profit was pursued, the public was left with the consequences and the cost of cleanup, if it ever occurs.

    The longstanding battles over American rangeland between competing owners and between competing uses, like cattle and sheep, were not pretty. There is no doubt that there are still significant problems dealing with public land management, in part because the rules of the game are still set by the Mining Act of 1872 and the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934.

    All but the most reckless individuals would agree that if these statutes were written today they would look fundamentally different with more protections and clarity. It was into this void that Teddy Roosevelt stepped, declaring critical national monuments. He established wildlife refuges to benefit countless generations to come.

    These amazing treasures are not just scenic wonders. They hold extraordinarily valuable habitat for wildlife, waterfowl, helping preserve the land and the water and the ecosystem that goes far beyond what is simply spectacular to look at.

    This is America's heritage. We struggle on an ongoing basis to recover from the reckless, thoughtless exploitation of the last two centuries. The vast majority of the American public supports this effort, even if they never visit the remote Western regions. Indeed, the fact that they are often inaccessible is the only way that they are preserved. Imagine tour buses, motorized vehicles, hordes of tourists, their infrastructure and their litter, and the destructive effects that would have.

    The sideshow with the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge obscures a much larger and important public policy: protecting our heritage, enhancing it, and avoiding reckless behavior of a few that will penalize generations to come.

    That is why the Harney Basin Wetlands Initiative of people in that region, facilitated by the refuge between 2010 and 2013, was a textbook example of collaboration, where all the stakeholders created a vision and a 20-year plan for the refuge and the surrounding landscape, including the biggest wetland restoration project ever undertaken.

    It would be valuable for us to look behind the headlines to the facts on the ground, the history of the resource, the struggle for protection, the tremendous benefits for all Americans, and what the stakeholders in that region accomplished together.


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