The ‘Deep Pockets’ Behind the Oregon Takeover

Malheur wildlife reguge harney countyFrom a corporate social responsibility angle, Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy’s motivation for invading the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is clear: He has repeatedly said that he wants to help the local community in eastern Oregon. However, Mr. Bundy seems to have unique notions about who needs what kind of help. And just when you thought he could not find another bucket to step in, well, there he goes again.

The latest misadventure happened on Friday, when Bundy tried to orchestrate an on-camera interview with an FBI negotiator, only to be turned down unceremoniously over the phone. Instead of face-to-face drama, Bundy gave the media nothing but yet another statement of made-up mumbo jumbo about the constitutional authority of county sheriffs that only makes sense if you slept through your 4th grade civics class.

From that non-event, Bundy took the media over to the office of a genuine sheriff, Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward, who also refused to meet with him.

Meanwhile, Harney County officials have announced that another in a series of public information meetings will be held on Monday evening, but this time attendance is strictly limited to community members who have ID to prove their residency, and firearms are prohibited. Both policies are clearly intended to exclude Bundy and his group of miscreants, so now the whole community is on record in refusing to meet with him.

To hammer home the point, local officials agreed to allow Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud” program broadcast and moderate the event, providing community members with a national platform on which to describe exactly how they feel about Bundy and his group.

Despite the fact that nobody wants him around, Bundy stubbornly refuses to leave. So, what’s going on here?

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a honey trap

For those of you new to the topic, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located in Harney County, Oregon. Refuge personnel recently vacated the premises after receiving tips that trouble was brewing, and sure enough, on Jan. 3 a truck-fleet repair company owner from Arizona named Ammon Bundy led a group of heavily-armed men to the site and occupied the buildings.

An armed invasion of federal property necessarily involves federal authorities, but while the FBI has been operating in support of local law officials from the start, Ammon Bundy and his small group of followers are allowed to come and go as they please. Despite the clearly criminal nature of their actions at the refuge, so far only one arrest has been made, when a follower was apprehended in the nearby town of Burns for unauthorized use of a federal vehicle.

Local residents, officials and elected leaders on up to the governor of Oregon are becoming increasingly frustrated with the FBI’s strict hands-off policy, but two critical things are happening because of that policy.

First, day after day Ammon Bundy and his initial group of followers have been building up a solid wall of federal charges against themselves. In the past week, for example, Bundy’s group has released video of themselves handling Pauite artifacts stored at the refuge, and they’ve used heavy equipment to carve a new road through an important archaeological site.

Second, and more to the honey-trap point, Ammon Bundy’s repeated calls for support are beginning to have some effect, and like-minded souls have begun to turn up in Burns and at the refuge, providing the FBI with a very convenient way to assemble a head count of every whackaloon in the U.S. who is ready and eager to participate in armed sedition, while affording those so inclined with ample opportunities to entangle themselves in Ammon Bundy’s growing net of criminal activity — which, by the way, has been liberally documented by the group’s own YouTube videos as well as by the media.

All of this makes it evident that federal agencies have learned a lot from their notorious 2014 armed standoff in Nevada with Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy. That encounter was relatively brief, and while weapons were involved, the feds seem to have decided that the episode was not egregious enough to build solid public support for their rather extensive case against the rancher’s theft of federal property.

The Ammon Bundy situation is altogether different. The local community is solidly against him, his father’s supporters have disavowed him, and he is giving the feds plenty of criminal charges to chew on even if they decide not to nail him on any weapons-related offenses. The 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act, for example, can kick in a felony penalty of up to $20,000 and one year in prison for a first offense, and it exposes the offender to civil action by both the federal government and Native American authorities.

A second felony offense, by the way, involves a fine of up to $100,000 and five years in prison.


The deep pockets behind the takeover

That finally brings us to the so-called “deep pockets” behind the takeover. In a media interview posted on YouTube, Ammon Bundy had this to say about support for his actions (go to the one-minute mark to catch it):

“We have a lot of political support, but I’ll let them be the one to step up ahead. We also have a lot of deep pockets if you will, financial support that are willing to invest in the people of Harney County, so that they can get very low-interest loans so that they can buy cattle; they can buy equipment; they can [unintelligible but sounds like “buy mules”]; and pay employees. And then we also have support in other ways across the country.”

In terms of support from elected politicians, the reaction to Ammon Bundy has ranged from almost total silence to active condemnation, even among leading Republicans who once spoke in favor of his father. That’s not exactly a reluctance to “step ahead.” That’s a nearly bottomless void of support with the exception of Bundy’s own narrow sphere of followers.

As for the deep pockets, on a first listen it might appear as if Bundy is referring to wealthy interests that are backing his efforts, but as far as we can make out, he’s just promising that a low-interest loan program for local businesses will materialize — perhaps modeled on the $530,000 loan guarantee that Bundy himself received from the federal Small Business Administration back in 2010.

Aside from ranchers, the intended recipients of this cash infusion would presumably be two other business sectors that are on Bundy’s short checklist of people to help, those being miners and loggers.

However, given the trend toward consolidation in the mining and logging industries, it’s not evident that any kind of loan program would directly benefit all that many small, local business owners in the area of the Malheur refuge.

Ironically, the local business owners who would most likely benefit directly from a low-interest loan program are probably the ones who Bundy has completely failed to acknowledge over the past three weeks, namely, people who don’t own a ranch, a mine or a logging company.

With that in mind, here’s a shout-out to the Steens Mountain Brewing Co., a new “nanobrewery” that recently opened in Burns. The super-tiny but prolific brewer seems to be off to a great start, and is looking forward to expanding with the help of an online fundraising campaign, so keep your eyes on Kickstarter for a chance to support — really support — the local business community around the Malheur refuge.

If you just can’t wait to pitch in, check out the G.O.H.O.M.E. campaign started by two Oregon brothers. Locals and other supporters will continue to add to the pot each day the occupation continues.  All funds go to benefit the Malheur refuge and the local Paiute community, as well as a gun control reform group and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the longstanding civil rights organization that tracks hate groups.

Image: via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

25 responses

  1. Tina Casey who claims to be an expert on sustainability should demonstrate just that. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect topic of discussion regarding that subject, but she is for some reason silent regarding sustainability in that region? The historical facts regarding the history of the Harney Basin leading up to the Hammonds struggle with the Federal Government is easily available for anyone to read who is interested. Why the media is not informing the public of this information particularly a spokeswoman on sustainability is, in my opinion, extremely irresponsible.

    Most people do not know that ranchers who originally settled in that area in the 1870s installed highly engineered irrigation systems for their cattle resulting in birds congregating into that area for the first time. The properly maintained and watered ranches and bird habitat increased until President Roosevelt declared the area a Wildlife Refuge and Indian Reservation in 1908, which eventually became the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. What people do not understand is that the Federal Government has so mismanaged the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that hardly any birds congregate anymore within its boundaries. In fact the vast majority of birds that do still migrate to that area do so on the private property that is still properly maintained and watered surrounding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It was Susie Hammond in the 1990s that discovered the reality that the vast majority of birds no longer migrated through the Refuge poorly managed by the Federal Government, which meant that the very purpose of forming the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a failure and subsequent rip-off for the American taxpayers. That is when the BLM and US Fish and Wildlife Service stepped up their viscous attacks against the Hammonds.

    This is just one story and example of the Federal Government environmental mismanagement. Sustainability is a wonder and important topic and as an American would like to see areas set aside as Wildlife Refuges properly managed. National wildlife refuges are set aside for specific purposes at tax payers expense and a failure to even sustain a refuge for that purpose is a waste of tax payer money and a burden to hard working people affected by their mismanagement. After learning the history of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and understanding the Hammonds story I am convinced that they are not only innocent, but outstanding examples of Americans. As Americans we have many battles to choose from, but we should not let the Federal Government win on this one. We need to send a message loud and clear to everyone attempting to cover up these facts to free the Hammonds an restore fair and sustainable land management to that area.

    1. Spoken like a true bundynite which means you must one of the criminals currently occupying the refuge. If we had a president with any kind of back bone you would all be in jail by now. BTW the Hammonds were arsonists and the minimum sentence for arson of federal property is 5 years, not a few months. And one is hardy innocent when witness see you commit the crime and testify in court to that effect.

    2. There is a lot of written and photographic information regarding the condition of the range in the Malheur NWR and surrounding areas prior to the involvement of the Bureau of Rec. The evidence does nothing to support your assertions that the wildlife was a result of irrigation projects by white settlers. In fact, written documents by settlers and biologists during and after the relocation of its residents in the 1870’s (the Paiutes) prior to any white settler irrigation projects show greater diversity and numbers than anything present today. The plume hunters and settlers reduced bird and other wildlife numbers to threatened levels. These documents are also easy to find, and some are even at

      The Bureau began administering water projects from failed attempts by settlers in the early 1900’s. Private projects literally drowned out productive lands, and extensive expense and drainage was necessary to return land to useful range, pasture, or cropping. As it was, the entire extent of the private irrigation efforts was less than a quarter of the present wildlife refuge lands.

    3. rairsys
      Reading a comment like yours just leaves me shaking my head. It is obvious you do not know the land. If any reductions in bird numbers have been noticed it would have been from the extreme drought the last few years. DU has many of the water projects that increased numbers. But facts are not in your vocabulary. Come visit us sometime!

      1. Thank you for avoiding my point. You are entitled to imagine that ranchers did not establish engineered irrigation systems in the 1870s until you provide facts (photographs, personal testimony, or reputable historians research) and reason to prove what you are saying is actually true. My family history is easy to prove from worded testimony. It should be easy to substantiate your claims.

    4. Hmm, no the Pauite were the original settlers. The irrigation systems were actually installed around 1908 by the government. This was a mistake. No, the area was well known for its bird population well before 1870. The over grazing of cattle destroyed the land and hunters searching for feathers desimated bird populations. Making this area a refuge healed the land and brought it to what it is today. It is a myth that the majority of birds no longer visit. The only thing I can agree with you on is that, yes, sometimes we mismanage. Once, we realize it, though, we change. I recommend that you check where you are getting your information from. Check out reliable source of the history from before these guys took over.

    5. rairsys has supplied a bunch of misinformation entwining some facts in to make it all look like it is all factual. rairsys cuts and paste their posts from a bundy supporters blog. The information has been proven to be false on so many levels.

      The paiute tribe call this area home plus their ancestral heritage is here including burial sites and petroglyphs. The refuge buildings house over 4,ooo native american artifacts that are important to the paiute tribe. Videos of the militants rifling through the artifacts have been posted on youtube. If they haven’t damaged them it’s very possible that they may be transported off site to sell to private parties.

      Fossils continue to be unearthed at archaeology sites in the refuge and on blm lands. Within Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, paleontologists have found the fossil bones of an unidentified camel-like species in Pleistocene volcanic ash deposits. This fossil site has the potential of yielding additional fossil animals and plants.

      Three industries have traditionally provided the county’s economic base: ranching, sheep raising, and timber. The railroad, which extended into the area in 1883, served as a catalyst to the cattle industry but later contributed to its decline. By bringing farmers and sheep men to the area, it created increased competition for productive land. Harvesting and breeding of wild horses was lucrative for a period.

      Harney County shares the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the nation with Grant County. Its abundance of game, numerous campsites and excellent fishing have stimulated fast-growing recreational activities. This has helped the community economically from early spring to fall. The county is in the path of the migratory bird flyway. During the migration
      as many as 320 species of birds can be seen. As well as other wildlife that use the refuge as home and food and water source.

      Although county lands were open to homesteading from 1862 to 1934, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management still owns more than 3 million acres or 62%, of the lands within the county boundaries. Facilitated on the national level by the Carey act of 1894, arid land in Harney County was donated to the state for irrigation and settlement, but all water development efforts failed. The remarkable abundance and diversity of bird life within the pre-irrigation Malheur region was first described by Charles Bendire in the middle 1870s. Beginning in the late 1880s, the area’s bird populations were devastated by the actions of plume hunters who harvested the showy feathers of Malheur’s waterfowl for use as hat ornaments.

      Eventually all land claims filed under the reclamation legislation were abandoned or nullified. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 and expanded in 1936. The refuge now includes 187,757 acres.

      The refuge began as a 81,786-acre parcel surrounding Malheur Lake, Harney Lake and Mud Lake, and was originally named the Malheur Lake Refuge. A large expansion occurred in 1935, when a 65,000-acre parcel was purchased from a meat packing company. The 14,000-acre of the Double-O Ranch including historic structures was added to the refuge in 1942 and provides important shorebird habitat,

      While cattle grazing was permitted on some portions of the property after 1935, the prioritization of the needs of the refuge’s wildlife led to reductions in the number of cattle allowed on the property starting in the 1970s. The number of cattle allowed to graze within the refuge remained at a steady level throughout the 1990s and 2000s. As the need for a comprehensive management plan for the refuge was realized, ranch operators became concerned about the possibility of further reductions in grazing allotments.

      One of the reason’s grazing limits being the sagebrush grouse as possibly being listed as endangered. Drafting of a new management plan began and was a collaborative process involving varied stakeholders in the refuge’s future, including ranch operators. Harney County ranchers became the nation’s first to sign 30-year agreements with the federal government to protect the grouse on their land. Many communities in Oregon and other western states followed suit.

      Controlling invasive grasses that squeeze native sagebrush off the landscape. Landowners pay a share of the costs. Nearly $20 million in federal grants have helped Oregon ranchers remove juniper trees, which have encroached upon some 6 million acres of formerly open land. Grouse won’t go near junipers, which are easy perches for hawks and other predators that feed on sage grouse. Grazing was allowed to continue under the plan, and is seen as a valuable tool in some areas to combat invasive plants that threaten the refuge’s habitat quality; however, the extent of grazing may be reduced in specific areas if it is scientifically shown to be detrimental to the refuge’s wildlife.

      1. Thank you for avoiding all my points. You are entitled to imagine that ranchers did not provide engineered irrigation system in the Herney Basin in the 1870’s that at first attracted birds to attracted birds to the area until you can use fact and reason to prove what you are saying is true.

        1. I looked up the Hammonds and their history. I can’t agree that resolving conflicts is best accomplished through threatening your neighbors and government employees. That would not be my example of outstanding Americans. I have no problem with individuals having conflict. It is how we work those conflicts out that is important. The individuals at Refuge have chosen an approach that is not only illegal, but unethical. Who elected them? What laws do they abide by? Can we all approach problems in that way? I hope that does not become our example!

  2. Really enjoyed this article. Very entertaining.

    And , come on, Rair. This is about the fifth time I’ve seen this cut-past job. You need to realize that repeating the some screed won’t win you any converts. You’d be surprised at how well informed most of the forum participants are. You seem to think that if people would just read what you have to say, they will see the light. Please have Susie present her peer-reviewed paper on western bird migration to the wildlife biologist groups. Maybe that would have some effect.

  3. Apparently Rairsys didn’t take the time to research claims of mismanagement and oppression of the local ranch community. Maybe the fact that the majority of the local community is asking the occupying group of outsiders to leave the refuge is a reflection of the real local history that is easily found on the internet, even in Wikipedia. Both the Audubon Society and OSU researchers state that the area was a major migration corridor and nesting site for birds and home to plentiful other wildlife for thousands of years, as evidenced by the Native American archaeological sites found there, not just since 1870. Part of the reason that the Refuge was formed, from lands already owned by the government, was to protect the birds and other wildlife from changes to the environment by the grazing and irrigation projects of those settlers and wholesale slaughter by plumage bird hunters. The majority of the land later added to the Refuge came from a single purchase from the Swift meatpacking company. Other land was purchased from individual landowners without foreclosure. The local residents seem to realize that they have a lot more to gain by continuing the discussions and negotiations that have been going on for years in a peaceful manner than by joining a group that thinks the only negotiating tools they need are their guns. The other people who wholeheartedly disagree with Rairsys are the members of the birding community, whose comments are also readily available online. Their descriptions of a birding paradise hardly match the desolation in Rairsys’ comments.

    1. Well you are the last one and still no facts provable testimony. You people are so cute the way you pat each other on the back. What else should I expect from an individual who hopes the Universe and all living things, for no reason, self organized themselves into existence. I hope you all have a nice day.

      1. I find it hilarious that you, yourself, have not provided one shred of evidence to support your claims. You are so cute the way you pat yourself on the back. What else should I expect from an individual who hopes theEarth and all living things, for no reason,were provided for your exploitation. I hope you all have a nice day.

        1. bobj: I provided the witness testimony of an individual that lives next to the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve. Normally in a court of law that is considered proof. However, to someone that hopes the Universe, of no reason, self organized itself into existence it does not. Thank you for making our discussion so easy. Please feel free anytime to provide worded testimony, photographs, or the documentation of a reputable historian to substantiate your claims. I read every claim above. Not one specifically addressed the subject of bird life in the Herney Basin just prior to 1870. I challenge you to find it and prove me wrong. One statement in the Wikipedia article claimed “pre-irrigation” to the region in the 1870s with no supporting evidence. One statement actually claimed the Government helped people figure out how to irrigate, which is completely ridiculous.

        2. Testimony in a court of law, be it witness testimony, has to be cooberation, it can’t be a single person telling a story. It can stand up if other parts of the testimony and narrative fit into what the witness is saying, if it is eyewitness testimony. Since the person you are quoting was not around during that time period, they are not an eyewitness, therefore their testimony is classified as hearsay, and not permitted. Therefore you have not offered proof of anything substantive. Please provide proof photographic or scientific of the bird populations prior to the 1870’s and after the 1870’s to prove your point. I also believe that the Paiute tribe was there prior to the time ranchers came and irrigated the land. Does their occupation supercede the occupiers? If so does their wishes that the current occupiers leave and allow the agreements made between them and the federal government for their use to retrieve and study artifacts and maintain wildlife not justify that those who claim to speak for the people to do as they wish and leave the sanctuary. You keep asking for proof, but provide none. Please provide real proof, scientific or photographic to back-up your version, before you harass people to provide you with proof to repudiate your claims. That is how it works. Or just admit you are trolling, and really don’t give a crap.

  4. rairsys apparently is just trolling. He asks for evidence to repudiate his claims, but never provided any evidence either. Multiple sources have given sources to their claims including scientific studies done by universities and groups that actually know about avian migration and actual history of the area, but since it doesn’t fall into his narrow view of what the truth should be, then it can’t be true. He breaks every rule of debate, and really is just trying to be an asshole, which he is greatly succeeding at. My evidence for that fact is all your previous BS responses and your original post. I would site them and link to them, but rairsys doesn’t really care about anything but his narrow point of view and trolling anyone who would dare argue with his diminished, but delusional intellect. He will respond to this with some stupid straw man argument, feel good about himself and continue to live his pathetic life in his own self congratulatory ignorance, where he cannot be beaten or incorrect regardless of what is presented. He may even falsely claim some level of education or research, that can’t be proven on a message board, while feeling his masturbatory glee in thinking he has bested all the liberals with his non-existant proof that supports not real world facts, but his narrow view of what the world should be. Mainly being that a white rancher has greater claim to the management of the land than the local native people do. I believe they want the terrorists to leave their land.

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