What's Really Going On at Malheur NWR?

It Depends On Who You Talk To

Added 7 February 1997

Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is 181,000 acres, is 40 miles long, and 37 miles wide. (pp. 117) Beyond that, who knows what's true. In Surviving the Second Civil War, Mr. Walters describes the situation this way . . . Some 52 permit-holding ranchers were once allowed to graze cattle and cut hay at Malheur, during the 1950's. At the same time, Malheur NWR had the highest nesting population of greater sandhill cranes in the U.S. Malheur was also host to tens of thousands of other "marsh related species." When grazing permits were reduced at Malheur, wildlife migrated from the refuge to nearby privately held farms. On this farmland, ". . . the food supply was still intact." Only 2 greater sandhill crane chicks were raised at Malheur during the 1973-74 season.

Two wildlife biologists, Denzel and Nancy Ferguson, have quite a different story about Malheur. In 1948, at 75,000 AUM's, the refuge produced approximately 151,000 ducks. In 1972, at almost 150,000 AUM's, the refuge only produced 21,300 ducks. (pp. 18) The Ferguson's also talk about how one night the assistant refuge manager sat on their couch and wept " . . . because cows were knee-deep in mud in his favorite birding site." . (pp. 18) Cattle were eating the grasses that waterfowl need to hide in. With no place to hide, they were easy prey for local predators. Hay operations also destroyed nesting sites and even killed birds themselves, as they got caught by the machinery.

Which story you believe, truthfully, will probably depend wholly on your mindset before reading the above accounts. If you already believed that cows are good and ranchers are right, you have probably discounted the Ferguson's as "radical hippy environmentalists." If you don't like cows and want them off of public land, you probably think that Mr. Walters is a "land raping money monger." You may be asking yourself which side I believe. Quite frankly, I don't know. As the data was presented to me, I can shoot huge holes in both arguments. Neither Mr. Walters nor the Fergusons present a complete picture.

This, perhaps, is my main point in discussing Malheur NWR. Each side has a belief. Each side holds fiercely to that belief. Each side has a skewed tale of why it is right, and the other side is wrong. In the end, perhaps I am the most wrong, by hoping that such people can realize this, correct their ways, and reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Call me a starry eyed idealist. Go ahead, I don't mind.

AUM - Animal Unit Month, the amount of forage required to feed cow, a cow/calf, or two yearling cows for one month.

Walters, Timothy Robert, Surviving the Second Civil War: The Land Rights Battle . . . and How to Win It, Rawhide Western Publishing, Safford, Arizona, 1994. ISBN: 0-9641935-0-7

Russell, Sharman Apt, Kill the Cowboy: A Battle of Mythology in the New West, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993. ISBN: 0-201-58123-X

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