As It Happens

Officials believe Oregon militia may be destroying archaeological treasures

It's week three of the anti-government militia occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. And federal employees are concerned the militia is destroying archaeological treasures in the refuge.
A sign referencing Ammon Bundy and his brother, who are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, hangs on a tree in front of a home (Rick Bowmer/AP)
Listen6:48

Federal employees that work at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon are speaking out against the men occupying the land because they say the group is damaging the reserve and potentially destroying sacred Paiute Indian sites and artifacts.

 It makes it a challenge to be at your high school basketball game and see folks [from the militia] … sitting there with open carry weapons"- Jason Holm

The Oregon Militia stand-off has entered it's third week and the men occupying the refuge have been seen tearing down federal fencing and building a road straight through the land. Jason Holm, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tells As It Happens host Carol Off that there is real concern for historic and archeological treasures being destroyed.

Ryan Bundy returns from church to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. on Jan. 10. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

"We know they have built some roads and they are using heavy equipment ... the fact that folks are driving around with impunity and without consideration of burial sites and archaeological treasures ... I've described it in the past as ghoulish and I stand by that."

Holm also says Ammon Bundy's group has been employing intimidation tactics against federal employees and their families, "There were reports of employees' spouses being followed home or cars being parked outside people's houses ... it was designed to intimidate our folks … I think people are trying to get on with their lives …  but it makes it a challenge to be at your high school basketball game and see folks [from the militia] … sitting there with open carry weapons."

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., is seen from atop an old fire lookout (Keith Ridler/AP)

Reports were circulating that the militia was accessing federal records inside the refuge. Holm says his group is already taking steps to protect employees and others' information. "We're working with a data protection and financial protection company to make sure our employees or land owners that their data will be monitored and protected."

Holm stresses that even though the occupation has started a debate between ranchers and federal employees, the people of Harney county are united as a community. "We've had these conversations for years. We can have disagreements effectively, and then sit down and have a cup of coffee and iron them out. We might not even come to an agreement, but ... we do it respectively."

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown talked about the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Molly J. Smith /Statesman-Journal via AP)

Meanwhile, Oregon Governor Kate Brown is fed up with the occupation. In a news conference Wednesday, she called on the federal government to remove the militia from the refuge. "This spectacle of lawlessness must end. And until Harney County is free of it, I will not stop insisting that federal officials enforce the law."

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