What Is The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge? The Oregon Protest Site Is A Popular Spot For Fishing & Hunting

On Saturday, hundreds of armed protesters marched through the small town of Burns, Oregon, and later occupied the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to show their support for a local father-and-son pair convicted of arson on the refuge property. The group, which is being called a "militia," likely due to their opposition to sending the two men to prison for about four years each. The protesters chose Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as the site of their operations, which they say could last several years if necessary, potentially bringing violence to an otherwise peaceful place.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a body of federally protected land, is located about 30 miles south of Burns, a city of just over 2,800 people at the time of the last census in 2010. The refuge covers more than 187,000 acres of land, including 120,000 acres of wetlands, roughly 100 miles north of Oregon's border with Nevada. It is home to as many as 320 species of birds, as well as antelope, deer, and other wildlife. Most of the time, the refuge is an expansive place to camp, hunt, fish, and explore, but since Saturday, it has become ground zero for a controversial debate over how domestic protests of this nature should be handled.

The refuge has a long history as one of the earliest geographic areas to come under federal protection in the region. It was established in 1908, as one of the 51 national refuges originally created by President Theodore Roosevelt. Malheur was the third refuge in Oregon and just the sixth refuge established west of the Mississippi River. Through the middle of the refuge flows the Donner und Blitzen River, which, unfortunately, was not named after Santa's reindeer. (It was actually named after a thunderstorm that soldiers experienced while crossing the river in 1864. Donner und Blitzen is German for "thunder and lightning.")

The protesters who took over the refuge on Saturday say they plan to stay as long as necessary. Ammon Bundy, who is leading the protesters, told The Oregonian on Sunday, "We're planning to stay here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we've made at the last minute." The protesters took advantage of the fact that the wildlife refuge remained closed for the holidays this weekend in order to enter and occupy the headquarters. Although they have vowed to remain non-violent unless provoked, it's a shame to see such a demonstration at an otherwise tranquil place.

Image: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife/Flickr