Secretary Jewell and Attorney General Lynch:
On behalf of the National Wildlife Federation and our state and territorial affiliates, we write to express our grave concern about the prolonged unlawful takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as it enters a fourth week. We appreciate the priority that you and your staff have placed upon finding a peaceful resolution to this criminal occupation and your efforts to keep the public and federal employees safe; however, the situation does not appear to be dissipating and the numbers of continue to swell. Inaction is emboldening this criminal element at the expense of the overwhelming majority of Americans who support keeping public lands accessible for all, especially the thousands of Oregonians who have been unable to visit the Refuge for weeks.
What started as a relatively peaceful protest has now turned into a destructive binge with the occupiers ripping down fences, digging holes, bulldozing roads, desecrating artifacts, threatening staff, commandeering federal vehicles, and building fortifications. These criminal acts are undermining the public trust doctrine that our federal refuges embody and years of work to restore critical habitat, including reducing invasive non-native carp, for the enjoyment of all Americans—efforts that could be lost if its order is not restored.
We are concerned that the number of occupiers has grown from around ten to more than fifty with many individuals coming and going as they please to bring in new supplies and equipment. Allowing this to continue increases the chance of escalation and we encourage you to contain and constrain the occupation by preventing perpetrators who leave the premise from returning and preventing additional individuals from entering the Refuge or bringing in more supplies.
As organizations and individuals that care deeply about America’s public lands, our fish and wildlife, and the value these resources bring to communities across the country and the globe, we believe that it is imperative that we end the brazenly illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as soon as possible. The National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates represent more than six million members and supporters who hunt, fish, hike, camp, and watch wildlife. We—and the hundreds of millions of Americans who enjoy our public lands—stand in solidarity with you and are unified in our opposition to the illegal actions currently taking place on the Malheur Refuge.
We respect the First Amendment Rights of all Americans to be able to freely express opinions, including discontent with how national public lands are managed—our Federation itself often raises concerns when fish and wildlife are put at risk—but this is no longer a civil protest or a free speech issue. The acts of destruction, combined with the prevention of other Americans to access public lands that are their birthright, are a clear violation of law and must be treated as such. The investment in conservation by all Americans, starting with this Refuge’s establishment by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 through the Duck Stamps purchased by Americans this year, represent the very best of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the public trust doctrine in which these phenomenal resources are accessible to all Americans regardless of income or background. We cannot allow these values to be undercut and pillaged by these outliers who want to impose their unpopular views on the rest of the public.
As is often said, democracy cannot function without the rule of law. We implore you to take every reasonable action in response to these lawbreakers. Community leaders and government officials in Oregon and beyond say they fear there could be permanent damage at the Refuge as well as elevated safety risks for employees and local residents if the occupiers are permitted to remain—and worse yet, copycat occupations and similar efforts elsewhere. The continuing media attention is only rewarding their illegal behavior and the occupiers and their fringe minority of followers are being emboldened by the seeming lack of consequences. It simply has to stop and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
We stand ready to assist in any way that we can.
Collin O’Mara, President & Chief Executive Officer of the National Wildlife Federation
Arizona Wildlife Federation
Arkansas Wildlife Federation
Association of Northwest Steelheaders (Oregon)
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)
Connecticut Forest and Park Association
Conservation Council of Hawai’i
Conservation Federation of Missouri
Environmental Advocates of New York
Environmental League of Massachusetts
Idaho Wildlife Federation
Indiana Wildlife Federation
Iowa Wildlife Federation
Louisiana Wildlife Federation (pending board)
Montana Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Council of Maine
Nevada Wildlife Federation
New Hampshire Audubon Society
New Jersey Audubon Society
New Mexico Wildlife Federation
North Carolina Wildlife Federation
Prairie Rivers Network (Illinois)
South Carolina Wildlife Federation
South Dakota Wildlife Federation
Virgin Islands Conservation Society
West Virginia Rivers Coalition
Wyoming Wildlife Federation