Conservation Column: Public Lands Belong to Everyone

malheur nwrI write this at the end of January when the volatile situation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is just winding down. I feel sorrow that the illegal actions of the occupiers led to a life lost. I feel optimistic that this land which belongs to the public will once again be available for all to enjoy. I feel grateful that the people of Harney County will be free from the distress caused by the occupation and will again be able to interact with their many supporters as people flock to the refuge this spring. I feel comforted that the skies and waterways around the refuge will soon be filled with the graceful swoop of thousands of migratory birds despite the many (often foolish) activities of us human animals.

I cringed when I heard this fringe group say they were going to “take back” the land for the people, because it turns out that the people already have it. Each year, the refuge is visited and enjoyed by thousands who bring tourist dollars into the area. Management at the refuge is based on a plan resulting from the collaboration of members of the native Paiute tribe, ranchers and other community members, government workers, and scientists, among others. Some of the restoration projects are lauded for their potential to not only improve habitat, but also support the local community.

At January’s standing-room-only Program Meeting, we had the opportunity to enjoy mingling with the many people who attended. It was uplifting to listen to the many supporters who spoke eloquently about what the Malheur NWR means to them. It had seemed for a while that the “loud” voices of a few outsiders using intimidating tactics were the only ones being heard. But throughout the state and, indeed, the country, voices were raised at rallies and in social and news media of all kinds. It was gratifying to hear that public lands are valued by, well . . . the public.

A recent poll conducted by Colorado College State of the Rockies Project revealed that 72% of people surveyed believe that public lands in the west help our economy, while only 6% believe they hurt it. When queried about federal vs. state control, a solid majority are against turning public lands over to state control. Yet an alarming number of legislative proposals suggest doing just that. For example, a bill proposed in the 2015 Oregon State Legislature “requires United States to extinguish title to public lands and transfer title to public lands to state on or before December 13, 2018.” Unfortunately, the illegal public-land grab at the Malheur NWR was not an isolated incident. It is a symptom of a wider campaign to take public lands away from the people and privatize them. Several organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (with much funding from the Koch brothers) are working to restrict public access on public lands and turn them over to extractive industries. This is why it is so important that we do not grow complacent, even while breathing our collective sigh of relief at the apparent return to normalcy at Malheur. Now, more than ever, it is important that our legislators know how much we value public lands. To protect our legacy, preserve native heritage, conserve a major stopover for tens of thousands of birds representing 320 species, benefit from ecosystem services provided (such as clean water and air), allow continued scientific monitoring and restoration, and ensure that natural wonder persists for us and for our children—here’s what you can do:

Visit public lands: Enjoy our public lands. Go birding. Attend the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. Hike. Watch wildlife. Commune with nature. Be inspired. Make reservations for an overnight stay. Spark your creativity—write poetry, paint pictures, craft photographs. Marvel. As you shop, eat, or stay overnight, let the good people of Harney County know that you are there to enjoy your public lands.

Donate:

Malheur Field Station: www.malheurfieldstation.com/

Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: www.malheurfriends.org/donate.html

National Wildlife Refuge Association: http://refugeassociation.org/

Buy a migratory bird hunting and conservation stamp:
www.fws.gov/birds/get-involved/duck-stamp/buy-duck-stamp.php

Speak out:

Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper:

Register Guard: rgletters@registerguard.com

Eugene Weekly: editor@eugeneweekly.com

Write your legislators! On the OBOL list devoted to Malheur, there’s a list of officials you can contact: www.freelists.org/post/boo/please-write-all-your-representatives,4

And see: www.laneaudubon.org/resources/links