Last month a 41-day-long siege of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon ended after hours of talks between the FBI and occupiers. Those 41 days included multiple arrests, a deadly confrontation between the militants and officials and, apparently, ransacking the occupied building.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (UFWS), the damage to the refuge headquarters has cost taxpayers $6.5 million. So far.
The refuge is again open to the public, but KATU News reports that as of Wednesday, there were still signs of the damage done by the militants:
Noticeably, the sign at the main entrance to the Visitor's Center was gone, probably saying the most about what went on during the occupation. The landscape hasn't change, but there's a lot of work going on at the Visitor's Center. Refuge employees are working out of temporary modular buildings. There are a lot of big pipes, because the government said the occupiers clogged up the septic system and major repairs to plumbing would eventually get underway. There is currently no running water, no toilets, and no electricity at the Visitor's Center.
Some sweatshirts were also missing from the refuge gift shop, and staffers' personal items were lost.
Linda Beck, a biologist with UFWS, told KATU that losing access to the reserve for more than a month has serious implications for her work. Beck prevents invasive fish from overwhelming refuge waterways, and says that the occupation means she's lost three years worth of effort on that front. "The hardest thing was not being able to plan. So we didn't know if it was going to last two days, two months, or longer. So just kind of the waiting game and in science you need to plan ahead," she explained to KATU. Beck's office was also used by Ammon and Ryan Bundy. "A lot of my personal stuff was not in my office," she said, adding, but "You do feel violated."
UFWS photos from the scene show the mess the militants left behind:
On Thursday, the Center for American Progress called upon Congress to take a stronger stance against the likes of the refuge occupiers, saying in a statement that the government's response has been weak:
It is time for Congress to confront the dangers of anti-government extremism on America’s public lands, defend the rule of law, and reaffirm a set of shared values that will guide the stewardship of the nation’s parks, wildlife, and waters for the next century. As a first step, Congress should investigate the individuals and groups responsible for this wave of anti-government standoffs and attacks on public lands.
And, the Center points out, the militants are backed by powerful groups—so the financial implications of such occupations go beyond draining taxpayer funds:
People For Constitutional Freedom, the anti-government organization that Ammon Bundy created during the takeover of the Malheur NWR, accepts donations through the PayPal account of Bundy’s truck rental business, Haybo Truck Leasing LLC. Contributions to the CSPOA—which is closely allied with the Bundys, Oath Keepers, and other militia groups involved in the recent standoffs—go to the personal PayPal account of the organization’s leader and only staff member, Richard Mack.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.