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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Malheur Refuge Occupation Ends Peacefully

Close up view of greater sandhill crane showing the characteristic red forehead
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge provides important breeding grounds for greater sandhill cranes and other birds. Credit: Roger Baker / USFWS

As I write this, the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has just ended: 41 days of shock, disbelief, disappointment, frustration, anger, followed with dedication, preparation, perseverance, pride, compassion, and ultimately, relief that it is all over. And realizing that a new phase—repatriation and recovery of the refuge—is just beginning.

Malheur’s outstanding staff will move quickly to assess the damage and formulate a restoration plan. And the individuals who perpetrated these crimes sit in jail, or in home detention, awaiting trial for their actions. Of course, as Americans, we cherish the concept of presumed innocence, until and unless convicted by a fair and impartial court, so please, as difficult as that may be, make sure your public and personal comments reflect a respect for this most basic and important principle of our justice system.

I share your relief and joy that the occupation is over. It will take some time to repair the damage—both physical and psychological—that this occupation has left in its wake. But we will repair it! And like all adversity, squarely faced, along with our friends, neighbors and partners, we will emerge stronger than ever.

Even so, I’m acutely aware of the burden and stress that has been placed on so many employees. In particular, the staff and volunteers of Malheur who were displaced from their work, had their personal lives upended, and endured unwarranted harassment and intimidation. Through the entire ordeal, they maintained their flawless professionalism, aiding the response to the occupation, and continuing their contributions to the Service’s conservation mission. I cannot thank all of you enough, or adequately express my admiration for your conduct during a very dangerous and unpredictable time.

I also want to acknowledge staff from the regional office and across the nation who worked incredibly long hours in the Joint Incident Command Center and elsewhere to respond to this crisis. In particular, our Law Enforcement agents and Refuge Law Enforcement Officers, who coordinated closely with the FBI and local law enforcement to protect the public and stakeholders over the long weeks of the standoff, and played a key role in bringing the perpetrators into custody to face justice. But, our response represented the entire Service—one Service—the "Service family" we frequently and proudly speak about: Business administration, information technology, personnel, ecological services. Everyone who was asked jumped at the opportunity to serve. Also notable, the exceptional work of our communications professionals in external affairs over the course of the 41-day occupation. To all who supported this effort, thank you!!!

We also saw the importance of enduring partnerships. During this travail we enjoyed courageous and supportive statements from the Burns Paiute Tribe, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, the National Audubon Society, and Trout Unlimited. Their words and actions during this time of need will be forever remembered. These great partnerships are the result of your work!  Thank you again!!

Many others across the West have endured similar threats and intimidation because of your status as federal employees—not just during the Malheur standoff, but during the earlier Bundy Ranch incident and other flashpoints. I know that some of you continue to feel vulnerable. Please know, your safety and security is our highest priority, and I hope that you see our commitment reflected in our actions over the past 41 days. We have been in continuous communication with the Department of the Interior and the Justice Department throughout this entire process.

It is unacceptable, and criminal, for any Service employee to face threats of violence for doing his or her job. And it will not be tolerated. I urge you to contact law enforcement professionals if you experience any coercive actions or threats. We are committed to protecting you, and holding perpetrators accountable for criminal acts.

It’s an incredible testament to Chad Karges and his fantastic staff that the community of Burns rallied to the defense of the refuge and its work. The work of the Portland Ecological Services Office, in building sage grouse candidate conservation agreements for Harney County were reflected in calming statements by ranchers. And their voices were joined by people and organizations from across the nation and the world. The armed occupiers found almost no public support, in large part because for years, Service employees have worked to build and strengthen partnerships with local ranchers and landowners. Together, they’ve developed voluntary conservation agreements supporting private, working landscapes surrounding the refuge. These partnership-driven conservation measures benefit native species like sage-grouse, while also keeping local ranchers and their families on the land they’ve stewarded for generations.

I consider ranchers in Harney County and across the West to be an integral part of the landscape and culture of the West. They’re also vital to protecting and preserving native wildlife on millions of acres of interconnected public and private lands. They have our support and understanding, and they know it. Our task now is to reconnect with them and our partners, and to recommit to a strong working relationship.

Each and every one of you has much to be proud of, and I’m humbled by the way you’ve handled this crisis. I know you will move forward to pick up the pieces and knit them back together again—and that we will be stronger because of it.

Thank you again for all your courage, perseverance and professionalism. You are a credit to the Fish and Wildlife Service and public servants everywhere. Let's take a moment today and pause to be thankful.


Very well said.
# Posted By John Riutta | 2/11/16 5:09 PM

Thank you for these important words of support to our friends and neighbors who respectfully held the line during this armed takeover, despite in some cases being forced from their homes as well as their work places. It will still be a while before folks can go back to the refuge - the next two days the crime scene has to be swept for bombs and the news conference indicated that there's a terrible mess there, along with the violation of archaelogy sites. Please ensure that they have your continued support. They have ours.
# Posted By Kathy | 2/11/16 6:00 PM

# Posted By | 2/11/16 6:12 PM

Welcome back
# Posted By | 2/11/16 6:16 PM

Well said, sir. My best to you and the rest of the refuge employees .
# Posted By Debra Henk | 2/11/16 6:18 PM

Sanely & tactfully put, thank you!
# Posted By TheMadBlonde | 2/11/16 6:25 PM

Well said
Prosecute these criminals and make them pay for repairs they inflicted
# Posted By | 2/11/16 7:47 PM

Thank you for what you do..
# Posted By | 2/11/16 8:33 PM

This is a really excellent message, Dan. Thanks for all your good work during this ordeal. Jim.
# Posted By Jim Mccallum | 2/11/16 8:47 PM

This is a really excellent message, Dan. Thanks for all your good work during this ordeal. Jim.
# Posted By Jim Mccallum | 2/11/16 8:48 PM

Kudos to your professional statement. Though I want to just scream, "Ahhh" in frustration, you are correct for our society to function in the manner in which we all want it to, all individuals involved must be respected and treated fairly. I'm far away in Texas and cannot offer my services as a volunteer, but I would like to congratulate the federal government and all involved in the way they peacefully settled this situation. Here's to everything being restored quickly and all functioning well at Malheur in the very near future. All my best wishes to a quick and efficient restoration of the environment.
# Posted By Lesley Fisher Rice | 2/11/16 9:25 PM

Thank you!
# Posted By John Z | 2/11/16 10:51 PM

I am saddened by the entire stand off episode. That said, I am so glad, more than words, that the species this place rightfully belongs to are okay! Thank you so very much to the officers that look out for them! Thank you again for the most wonderful job you do, you are appreciated. Sincerely, future generations.
# Posted By Carrie Sommers | 2/12/16 1:34 AM

Thank you for your most eloquent summary of recent events and the measured calm which you has shown throughout. My brother in law was National Park Ranger in law enforcement and faced many unnerving situations in his long career. Your hard work is much valued by many of us. Let us know what we can do to assist you.
# Posted By Lynn Peterson | 2/12/16 2:02 AM

Thank you and prayers for healing to everyone.
# Posted By | 2/12/16 3:39 AM

I am so happy that this is over. I, too, support our government employees and I can imagine how hard this has been. The preservation of our national treasures is not only a duty of those who work at it full time - it is the responsibility of all Americans. I hope that the damage was not too bad and that the area will be ready to receive visitors again soon. Your law abiding fellow Americans are proud of you.
# Posted By Sharon Flood | 2/12/16 2:23 PM

We've visited Malheur to view the birds (yellowheaded blackbirds are big treats for we New Yorkers!) and am grateful that the refuge, its resident wildlife and refuge employees are now safe once again. We were concerned about reports of bulldozing and destruction of Native American artifacts. We hope the damage isn't irreversible. In the meantime, thank you so much for all of your hard work! We look forward to future visits to Malhuer and other national refuge visits.
# Posted By Susie Stulz | 2/12/16 4:13 PM

Now they can start digging an open pit Uranium mine. Next story.
# Posted By | 2/12/16 5:34 PM

Very proud of you and your staff, Dan. Wishing the very best for everyone affected, and hoping for total restoration of the damaged property and habitat.
# Posted By Jim Nosler | 2/12/16 7:35 PM

I am so relieved that the Malheur occupation is over! Thanks so much to USFWS staff for your dedication to protecting our public legacy of wildlife and wildlife habitat. I look forward to visiting Malheur and experiencing this piece of wild America, without the threat of armed thugs.
# Posted By Phil Knight | 2/13/16 11:49 AM

We are with you in your efforts to reopen the refuge and also in re-establishing your community ties, for they are the backbone of every organization whether government or private.
GOD Bless America!
Gregory W. Nelson
# Posted By Gregory W. Nelson | 2/13/16 3:47 PM

I have been following your endeavor and I am thankful that the occupation is over. I know you are assessing your needs after this event and we all know that monies will be needed. Please keep us informed as to the damages that will need attention. For the love of wildlife, Your Friend.
# Posted By Becky from Friends of Black Bayou | 2/14/16 5:15 PM

I also would like to Thank all the people involved in this incredible experience we have all had. It made me realize how important our public lands are. And how they can be easily threatened by people who don't care. I am a long distance hiker who camper out for 14 days near the headquarters. I was there everyday. Snow, rain ,cold , wind. I am so glad I was able to stand up for what I believe. Thank you all for your hard work. Candy Henderson.
# Posted By Candy Henderson | 2/15/16 5:19 PM

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