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Local birders concerned about Malheur refuge occupation

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COURTESY OF STEVE BERLINER  - Some of the many birds found at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.While the national media continue to follow around the militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns, recording their each and every comment and press conference, who speaks for the critters that vastly outnumber humans in the area?

We asked three local birders, a group that accounts for much of the $8 million a year spent by wildlife enthusiasts visiting Harney County, for their views on the saga.

“We are sorry that the refuge has been chosen as a protest site by the ‘outsiders,’ says Milwaukie resident Dick Shook. “It is our opinion that the land is rightfully under the control of the federal government as ruled on at least two occasions by the Supreme Court.

“If these people leave before the migration season, and don’t damage any of the facilities, probably they won’t have much of an impact. However, if they don’t leave by March or spring migration time, the county and Burns will suffer economically,” Shook says.

“The headquarters, where the encampment is taking place, is the small area that attracts the migrating birds because it is the best, maybe only, place where there is a concentration of water and large, varied, green trees where the birds find a place to rest and feed before resuming their flights to their breeding grounds,” Shook says.

He adds that this same spot is where birders from all over the country come as well, and Burns and the surrounding area is where they stay and spend their money.

Dick Shook and his wife Sally Shook have volunteered at the Malheur Field Station, which is three or four miles from the refuge headquarters, where the occupiers have taken their stand. They also did a week of volunteer work at the refuge more than 10 years ago.

“One of the many enchanting, memorable incidents was watching at dusk several pairs of short-eared owls in a courtship dance, that included clapping their wings together while flying in and out and around low-growing trees and shrubs,” Shook says. “It was always a thrill to sight a new species of bird, for us, such as a Virginia rail or the secretive sora.”

Steve Berliner, a Jennings Lodge resident and prominent nature photographer, says he’s glad the illegal occupation occurred at a time when fewer bird enthusiasts want to visit the refuge in the cold of winter. He hopes the occupation ends quickly, and does not cause any major changes to refuge management or to the national refuge system.

“I also did not agree with the recent, long-lived ‘occupy’ movement that caused great disruption and cost to citizens, taxpayers and visitors at many locations around the country, including Portland, causing the need for costly restoration where the occupiers ‘lived’ on public property,” Berliner says.

“I don’t believe in anarchy,” he says. “Lawful and orderly public protest is fine, and the First Amendment is a treasure of our constitutional heritage. Speaking our minds should not disrupt life for our fellow citizens, and be costly to everyone.”

Berliner, an avid supporter of the Audubon Society of Portland, is inspired by William Finley, who is largely responsible for the establishment of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 1908.

Finley “lived most of his adult life here in Jennings Lodge," While the national media continue to follow around the militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns, recording their each and every comment and press conference, who speaks for the birds who live there?

We asked three local birders, a group that accounts for much of the $8 million a year spent by wildlife enthusiasts visiting Harney County, for their views on the saga.

“We are sorry that the refuge has been chosen as a protest site by the ‘outsiders,’ says Milwaukie resident Dick Shook. “It is our opinion that the land is rightfully under the control of the federal government as ruled on at least two occasions by the Supreme Court.

“If these people leave before the migration season, and don’t damage any of the facilities, probably they won’t have much of an impact. However, if they don’t leave by March or spring migration time, the county and Burns will suffer economically,” Shook says.

“The headquarters, where the encampment is taking place, is the small area that attracts the migrating birds because it is the best, maybe only, place where there is a concentration of water and large, varied, green trees where the birds find a place to rest and feed before resuming their flights to their breeding grounds,” Shook says.

He adds that this same spot is where birders from all over the country come as well, and Burns and the surrounding area is where they stay and spend their money.

Dick Shook and his wife Sally Shook have volunteered at the Malheur Field Station, which is three or four miles from the refuge headquarters, where the occupiers have taken their stand. They also did a week of volunteer work at the refuge more than 10 years ago.

“One of the many enchanting, memorable incidents was watching at dusk several pairs of short-eared owls in a courtship dance, that included clapping their wings together while flying in and out and around low-growing trees and shrubs,” Shook says. “It was always a thrill to sight a new species of bird, for us, such as a Virginia rail or the secretive sora.”

Steve Berliner, a Jennings Lodge resident and prominent nature photographer, says he’s glad the illegal occupation occurred at a time when fewer bird enthusiasts want to visit the refuge in the cold of winter. He hopes the occupation ends quickly, and does not cause any major changes to refuge management or to the national refuge system.

“I also did not agree with the recent, long-lived ‘occupy’ movement that caused great disruption and cost to citizens, taxpayers and visitors at many locations around the country, including Portland, causing the need for costly restoration where the occupiers ‘lived’ on public property,” Berliner says.

“I don’t believe in anarchy,” he says. “Lawful and orderly public protest is fine, and the First Amendment is a treasure of our constitutional heritage. Speaking our minds should not disrupt life for our fellow citizens, and be costly to everyone.”

Berliner, an avid supporter of the Audubon Society of Portland,

is inspired by William Finley, who is largely responsible for the establishment of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 1908.

Finley, Berliner says, “lived most of his adult life here in Jennings Lodge," Berliner says, "and has been an inspiration to me in my photography, as he was one of the earliest bird photographers and writers about birds and other wildlife.”

Finley also was the first president of the Audubon Society of Portland. Berliner was so inspired by his legacy that he purchased Finley’s Jennings Lodge property to live on and care for, back in 2007.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the vast populations of waterbirds that were being decimated.

“The occupation of Malheur by armed, out-of-state militia groups puts one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk,” writes local Audubon Society Conservation Director Bob Sallinger, who recommends that local birders avoid the area while under occupation.

“We hope for a safe, expeditious end to this armed occupation so that the myriad of local and non-local stakeholders can continue to work together to restore Malheur in ways that are supportive of both the local ecology and the local economy — the occupiers are serving nobody’s interests except their own,” Sallinger says.