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Malheur: Why It Matters and What Birders Can Do About It

A male Yellow-headed Blackbird proclaims his territory at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—birders should do the same. Photo ©Jeffrey A. Gordon

A Yellow-headed Blackbird proclaims his territory at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—birders should do the same. Photo ©Jeffrey A. Gordon

Malheur matters to birders. It would be difficult to overpraise Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a birding hotspot or to overstate its value for the conservation for birds and other wildlife. It’s just that good.

But even as we birders venerate Malheur as one of North America’s finest birding destinations, we accept that we are just one constituency among the many that love this land and value it for reasons both practical and personal. As David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association writes:

“Refuges are a meeting place for people of all political stripes and walks of life: hunters, anglers, birders, ranchers, hikers, school children, researchers, teachers, photographers – and they are community resources. They attract tourism dollars, provide shared natural resources, and often include cooperative uses like farming and grazing in partnership with neighbors.”

We’re appalled that one tiny group of armed extremists presumes to claim this magnificent place and hold it hostage to their own political agenda. Malheur can’t be given back to “the people.” We already own it—all of us, not just a few. Birders join citizens all over the United States, including Sheriff David Ward and the residents of Harney County, in calling for the peaceful restoration of law and order to the refuge.


The American Birding Association extend our thanks and support to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their ongoing stewardship of Malheur and our entire refuge system and for doing the hard work of balancing diverse, sometimes conflicting views of how refuge lands ought to be managed in order to best, “… conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

And to the residents of Harney County, we recognize that all this is taking place in your backyard and that you have had and will continue to have a special, primary role in shaping what the land there is today and what it will be in the future. We hope your lives are back to normal very, very soon.

What Should Birders Do to Help Malheur?

Buy a Duck Stampthere’s no more direct, effective way to register your vote in favor of wildlife and habitat conservation through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service than to buy a Duck Stamp. Even better, buy your stamp(s) through the ABA and register your support for conservation specifically as a birder! Nearly all your money will go directly to habitat purchase. Plus, your stamp is good for admission to National Wildlife Refuges that do charge an entrance fee.

Join or donate to the Friends of Malheur and/or the High Desert Partnership — two non-profit organizations that are directly involved with Malheur and the surrounding area and which would welcome your support are the Friends of Malheur and the High Desert Partnership  Friends groups offer a critical support system to our badly understaffed and underfunded refuges. According to Tim Blount, Executive Director of the Friends of Malheur, “we provide support directly to the refuge and its many programs through donations, memberships, and volunteer opportunities to preserve this special place. Because we are such a remote refuge we don’t have the opportunity for many grants that are available to more urban refuges and so depend on direct support by individuals.” Join or donate to the Friends of Malheur here.

The High Desert Partnership, based in Burns, OR, works to “enhance the ecological sustainability, economic well-being and social vitality of [Harney County and southeast Oregon] communities by using a collaborative decision-making process with all interested stakeholders to solve challenging issues.” Donate to the High Desert Partnership here.

Go birding and SHARE birdingappeals, comedic and otherwise, for a mass invasion of birders to confront those currently occupying the refuge in reality aren’t a good idea, at least not now and for the foreseeable future. But going birding right now at your favorite local refuge or other birding spot, and at Malheur when things resolve, is always a great idea, especially if you share your experience.

When in the field, talk up birding with those you meet, including land managers and staff. Wear your binoculars into local stores and restaurants you patronize while birding. If that seems awkward, just display your ABA Bird of the Year stickers on your cell phone or a similar prominent place and use that as a conversation starter. The most important thing is to talk to other people about birding, especially about how much fun and meaning you find in it and how you’d be happy to help them get started.

As for visiting Malheur itself, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can go on your own, or take part in the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival this April, or join one of the many tour groups that include Malheur on their itineraries.

Finally, share your great birding experiences with those in your social and professional circles via social media and other means. Invite them out birding with you or on local bird club or similar outings. One of the greatest things about birding is how easily and widely it can be shared—always be looking for opportunities to do just that.

Keep watching and keep speaking out



obviously, the situation at Malheur merits continued monitoring by birders. We ask that you keep informed and help us keep informed. One of the real strengths of the birding community is its reach—we have reliable, trustworthy eyes, ears, and voices all over the ABA Area and around the world. Use the comments section here, our discussion group on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever means of communication you favor to join the conversation and to raise our collective voice. Together, we can be strong advocates for Malheur and all the places, birds, people, and traditions we hold dear.

Finally, if you’re not already an American Birding Association Member, please do join us. If you are, thank you.

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Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association. There's very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn't find fascinating, though he's especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds, including this Blog.
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