Malheur refuge manager: Armed takeover fallout will drive third of workers away
ESTES PARK, Colo. — About a third of the staff of an Oregon wildlife refuge that was taken over by armed protesters will probably leave their jobs because of the lingering effects of the occupation, the refuge manager said Thursday.
Some worry about being confronted by other protesters who sympathize with the anti-government group that took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days earlier this year, manager Chad Karges said. Others are simply worn down by having to retell the story to others.
"If they're a particular individual that struggles with these types of events, then having to repeat that story over and over and over is hard on them," he said.
The refuge has a staff of 16, said Karges, who was in Colorado to accept an award from the National Wildlife Federation.
The National Wildlife Federation award praised Karges and his staff for building a good relationship with nearby residents long before the takeover. In an interview, Karges said the refuge staff has worked for years to involve residents in decision-making, and that was the reason most opposed the occupation.
"You didn't see that community raise their hands and support the militia occupation. You saw them raise their hands and ask them to go home," he said.
"Without that process, I'm convinced we would have had a different outcome," Karges said. The occupation would have lasted longer, and some federal workers — including Karges — probably would have felt so unwelcome they wouldn't have returned, he said.
The protesters wanted the federal government to relinquish control of Western lands and free two imprisoned Oregon ranchers. They eventually surrendered and now face federal charges, but one — Robert "LaVoy" Finicim — was fatally shot by officers.
In Portland, Oregon, on Thursday, 42-year-old Jason Blomgren pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge related to the occupation.
Blomgren, of Murphy, North Carolina, traveled across the country to join the protesters. He told a judge he served as an armed guard.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed a charge of possessing a firearm in a federal facility. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 14. Prosecutors recommend six months of home detention.
Karges said workers finished repairing damage caused by the occupiers on Wednesday. The next step is deciding on new security measures. He said that could include surveillance cameras and gates but he declined to offer specifics.
Crews have caught up on maintenance they couldn't do during the occupation, but some wildlife-management work was thrown permanently behind, Karges said.
"Biological activities, when you miss the window, you miss the window," he said. "It's not there again for a long time. Those things you can't catch up on."