The Audubon Society of Portland joined several Western environmental groups in decrying the acquittal of Ammon Bundy as a precedent that could embolden extremists to seize public lands like the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
"Important restoration work on these public lands was disrupted, federal employees were intimidated, and today—more than ten months after the occupation—the public is still not able to access refuge headquarters," Audubon's conservation director Bob Sallinger said in a statement this morning. "Taxpayers have been left with a bill that is expected to exceed $6 million. Regardless of the verdict, the occupation of Malheur remains an attack on public lands and resources."
Sallinger also joined in an online chorus that has compared the FBI's cautious response to the Malheur occupation to the arrests of Native Americans protesting an oil pipeline this week in North Dakota.
"We also cannot ignore the disparities in the manner in which armed occupiers of public lands at Malheur were handled relative to the current treatment of unarmed Native American-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests on their own lands at Standing Rock," Sallinger wrote. "The two situations reveal deeply troubling inequities."
The Audubon Society of Portland joins two other conservation groups that decried the acquittal within minutes of the verdict: the Colorado-based Center for Western Priorities and the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.
"This is an extremely disturbing verdict for anyone who cares about America's public lands, the rights of native people and their heritage, and a political system that refuses to be bullied by violence and racism," said Kierán Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity's executive director. "The Bundy clan and their followers peddle a dangerous brand of radicalism aimed at taking over lands owned by all of us. I worry this verdict only emboldens the kind of intimidation and right-wing violence that underpins their movement."
Suckling told reporter Leah Sottile this morning that he blames the FBI's caution for leading to an acquittal—saying jurors couldn't tell if crimes were committed because law enforcement treated the Bundys "as Boy Scouts."
Suckling: “The FBI’s treatment of the Bundy militia as Boy Scouts for 41 days hobbled the prosecution…” (1/x)
— Leah Sottile (@Leah_Sottile) October 28, 2016
Here's Sallinger's full statement.
Audubon Society of Portland is deeply disappointed by the jury’s verdict in the case of seven defendants who occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016. We respect the legal process, but believe that the armed occupation of public lands, which included destruction of public property and disturbance of Native American archaeological sites, should have resulted in substantial penalties. Important restoration work on these public lands was disrupted, federal employees were intimidated, and today — more than ten months after the occupation — the public is still not able to access refuge headquarters. Taxpayers have been left with a bill that is expected to exceed $6 million. Regardless of the verdict, the occupation of Malheur remains an attack on public lands and resources.
We also cannot ignore the disparities in the manner in which armed occupiers of public lands at Malheur were handled relative to the current treatment of unarmed Native American-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests on their own lands at Standing Rock. The two situations reveal deeply troubling inequities.
Audubon Society of Portland greatly appreciates the work of public employees who staff Malheur and other public lands. Public servants should not face the risk of armed intimidation simply for doing their jobs. The verdict in the Malheur case will put public employees at greater risk of intimidation in the future. Audubon Society of Portland also greatly appreciates the community in Harney County, which largely rejected the illegal armed occupation as a way to resolve conflict.
We are still processing the verdict in the Malheur Case, but today we are committed to three paths forward. First, Portland Audubon remains committed to the collaborative process at Malheur, which started long before the occupation, continued during the occupation, and continues to this day. We look forward to continuing to work with the community, the refuge, the Burns Paiute Tribe and other conservation groups to move forward on areas of consensus and to peacefully and respectfully resolve areas of disagreement. Second, we remain steadfastly committed to protecting our public lands on the ground and in the court system. Our public lands are national treasures and they belong to us all. Third, we call on Oregon’s congressional delegation to lead legislative efforts which will ensure that there is adequate legal protection so that public lands, public employees and public access are not threatened by armed extremists.
Audubon Society of Portland’s history with Malheur dates back to our founding in 1902. October 27 was a dark day in the history of Malheur and of our public lands, but we remain confident that the outstanding collaborative processes at Malheur and America’s love and appreciation for public lands, will continue to light a path forward.