Staff (and Birds) Finally Return to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Birds_at_Creamers_Field_2007Whether they’re called patriots, extremists, terrorists, occupiers, or just a bunch of idiots, the siege of the Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon has finally come to an end. Refuge staff members are finally going back to work, and as winter turns to spring, so, too, are the migratory birds that call the refuge home.

The anti-government extremists occupied the compound for 41 days, but for anyone who followed the drama in the media, it felt like a lot longer. As Ammon Bundy and his co-conspirators sit in jail cells, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given employees the go-ahead to reopen the 187,757-acre refuge.

The site’s 16 full-time employees returned to see long-legged sandhill cranes and thousands of snow geese arrive. In total, 302 bird species live in the area, but for now the refuge remains shuttered to the public while repairs are underway.

Birds can be very beautiful, but they can also carry up to 10 parasites on their bodies, while 40 known viruses and 60 diseases are borne by birds and their droppings. Yet for once, the biologists of the Malheur wildlife center are dealing with droppings of the human variety.

When the FBI finally entered the compound this February, they found a trench full of “significant amounts of human feces”, a road excavated next to a cultural site, and tons of trash. The FBI also said they are working with Burns Paiute Tribe to assess the extent of the damage to sensitive tribe artifacts stored at the compound.

“Occupiers appear to have excavated two large trenches and an improvised road on or adjacent to grounds containing sensitive artifacts,” wrote U.S. Attorney Billy Williams of Oregon.

According to The Seattle Times, “buildings were damaged, carpets were soiled and a septic system plugged up from overuse that was further damaged as contractors tried to make repairs. Occupiers dug trenches for garbage and sewage, but the headquarters area also was littered with trash and piles of human waste,” all within an “archaeological zone that contains Paiute tribal artifacts.”

So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates it will cost $1.7 million to repair the facilities, in addition to the $4.5 million the occupation has already cost the agency.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Harney County are finally settling back into a normal routine, just in time for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival on April 8.

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