“Where seldom is heard a discouraging word….”


The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge begins it third week, and while there has been plenty of banter about the first two phases of the Harney County Saga…the initial march to protest the jailing of father-son ranchers, then the takeover of the refuge, I’m looking ahead to phase 3, when the siege ends, and especially to #4, a time of community reflection, consultation, and hopefully unity and a sense of inclusiveness.  Peace doesn’t blossom when war ends, it merely struggles to begin.

Living in a rural Washington State County where natural resource issues are also at the forefront, I have both worked to conserve nature as a government biologist and now as a member of a number of non-profit organizations.  Attempting to reach agreement with folks one has little in common with, is an arduous, sometimes unctous process that can take months and years.  Yet, when it works, when compromise is sought and reached, there can be huge satisfaction because the greatest lesson I have learned about conservation is that for it to be sustainable, there need to be local support.  One of the most positive moments of the Malheur story came during the Burns community meeting, when one woman reminded her bretheren about the vastly improved local relationships with the federal government through the adoption of a adaptive management plan.

The speaker told her neighbors of a dialogue that stretched over half a decade as people struggled to reach consensus. Their work culminated in a landmark 2013 plan to guide management of the 187,757-acre refuge, a plan affirming that cattle, if carefully controlled and monitored, could help achieve refuge management goals, such as knocking back invasive plants.

News sources interviewed rancher Fred Otley, who has had plenty of conflicts with federal land managers, however, the current refuge leadership appears to have earned his respect, even as some disagreements still persist about management of federal lands that provide his cattle vital fall and winter feed.

“To me, what is important is that the refuge has really listened and taken a more collaborative approach,” Otley said. “Automatically, that helps build better relations with the community.”

The efforts to develop the 2013 refuge plan have had ripple effects. They helped lay the groundwork for another cooperative program to protect sage grouse that started in Harney County, home to Malheur, and is credited with helping convince the Interior Department last September to not list the grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

These two pieces of popular news have been mostly lost among the rancor and distrust sewn by the refuge occupiers that have their minds set on disunity and lawlessness.  But they are not local folks and they haven’t been involved in the collaborative process, which will hopefully rekindle soon. ~