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Oregon Malheur refuge cleanup, upgrades to cost $4M

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Updated March 25, 2016 at 10:16 AM
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BURNS, Ore., March 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to spend an additional $4 million for cleanup to get Malheur Wildlife Refuge open to the public again after a 41-day armed takeover.

Workers have removed mountains of trash from the buildings since the standoff with federal authorities ended Feb. 11. There's still plenty to do. Holes had been punched in walls, office equipment was destroyed and there was a large hole the occupiers used for defecation after the water pipes burst in the main building. Wildlife experts say the damages go beyond what's immediately in front of them.

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Biologist Linda Beck said three years worth of work to combat carp in the refuge waterways has been destroyed. She hasn't been able to keep the invasive species from overpopulating.

"The hardest thing was not being able to plan. So we didn't know if it was going to last two days, two months, or longer. So just kind of the waiting game and in science you need to plan ahead," she said.

Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said cleanup and renovations will cost some $4 million. Another $2 million was spent during the stand off itself, including housing the 17 refuge employees in hotels for weeks after occupiers started threatening them. Local police agencies have not totaled their cost yet.

The standoff began on Jan. 2, led by Ammon Bundy to protest the punishment of two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson in 2012 under a domestic terrorism law.

The incident escalated into a weeks-long event with protesters from around the country joining in the takeover. Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 56, the group's spokesman, was shot and killed as he and other occupiers were driving to a nearby town. It is unclear if the FBI or Oregon State Police fired the fatal shots.

Bundy, his brother and 14 others pleaded not guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. A trial is scheduled for April 29.

At the same time, Bundy's father, Cliven, and 18 other people are facing charges stemming from a 2014 armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management agents, who tried to seize Bundy's cattle claiming he had been trespassing for decades by allowing his animals to graze without paying federal fees.

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