The men are protesting the pending imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of burning federal land.
The visitor center was not occupied by government employees when Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, and other men seized the property. They are demanding that the prison sentences be overturned for the Hammonds, and that the area’s national forest lands, including the wildlife refuge, be returned to local residents.
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located in Princeton, Oregon.
It is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. According to its website, the refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Reservation:
Roosevelt set aside unclaimed government lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud and Harney Lakes ‘as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.’ The newly established ‘Lake Malheur Reservation’ was the 19th of 51 wildlife refuges created by Roosevelt during his tenure as president. At the time, Malheur was the third refuge in Oregon and one of only six refuges west of the Mississippi.
The refuge now encompasses 187,757 acres of wildlife habitat. The 65,000 acre Blitzen Valley was purchased in 1935 and added to the refuge to secure water rights for Malheur and Mud Lake. With the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933, the refuge was able to use this additional manpower in 1935 to begin major improvements on the refuge. The CCC constructed most of the infrastructure in the Blitzen Valley including the Center Patrol Road which travels through the center of the refuge. The 14,000 acre Double-O unit was added to the refuge in 1942 and provides important shorebird habitat, as well as waterfowl nesting areas. Malheur Refuge is situated within the Harney Basin in southeastern Oregon. Located in the Northern Great Basin, this portion of the State is lightly populated, generally arid with cold winters, and characterized by wide open spaces.
The refuge said in a statement on its Facebook page, “The Refuge will be CLOSED until further notice.”