UO Geography professor testifies to Congress about 2016 armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

On Tuesday, October 22, University of Oregon professor of Geography and Environmental Studies Peter Walker testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.  

The hearing focused on anti-government attacks on federal employees and took place one day after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that revealed 360 reported instances of threats and assaults against four federal land management agencies employees from 2013 through 2017.

During his testimony, Walker began by discussing his experience documenting the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. He conducted interviews with more than 100 Harney County residents for his 2018 book “Sagebrush Collaboration: How Harney County Defeated the Takeover of Malheur Wildlife Refuge.”

Walker documented the history of Harney County residents seeking a culture of collaboration between ranchers, farmers, environmentalists, tribes, and other federal state and county workers in the lead up to the 2016 occupation. As a result, Walker reported, a majority of the residents in Harney County expressly disavowed the militant approach to problem solving adopted by Cliven Bundy and his fellow occupiers. “Ironically, the outside militants had no idea that Harney County was recognized nationally as something of a poster child for collaborative approaches, including building positive relationships with federal workers,” said Walker.

Walker praised Harney County’s efforts to overcome the strain on the community brought on by the Malheur occupation, stating that there has been a “reinforcement of a commitment to working together through the collaborative model.”

In closing, Walker told the subcommittee that although the views expressed by the Malheur occupants are only held by small minority of individuals, they give a more appealing public face to a wider spread of anti-government groups. Walker concluded by saying that the Malheur occupiers expressly endorsed violent overthrow of the federal government, and warned that the successes of their standoffs against the government give legitimacy to this dangerous ideology.