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NW Life | News | Animals | local | Environment | An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Bird Expert Goes Back to Normal in Harney County, With FBI Guests


SLIDESHOW: Although the 41-day occupation is over, life hasn’t quite returned to normal at a birding and interpretive center just down the road from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  

Duncan Evered points out a quick-flying bird of prey at the Malheur Field Station. He squeaks to attract the bird’s attention.  

The sharp-shinned hawk doesn’t fall for it.  

“I’ve squeaked to that bird before,” Evered said. “She probably knows me better than I know her.”  

The Malheur Field Station includes an interpretive center, classrooms and labs, and several residential buildings where hundreds of students and visitors stay each year. Evered lives at the center. But on the advice of law enforcement, he and the other field station employees evacuated during the 41-day occupation of the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.   

“When I left, it was completely open ended,” Evered said. “Would I be back in one day, a week, three weeks, four weeks?”

He worried that militants would break in and cause damage to the visitors’ center or start sleeping in the bunkhouses. And he fretted over his covey of quail. The refuge is for wild birds, but Evered puts bird seed out so the quail stay around for educational purposes.   

“If you create a dependency, especially in the winter, and then you can’t basically deliver, you’re kind of creating an abandonment,” Evered said.    

Feeding the quail was the first thing Evered did when he anxiously returned to the field station recently to check on things while the refuge occupation was still ongoing.  

During the occupation, intruders broke into one residence and let themselves into the dining hall at the field station. This broken door was the only visible damage from their visit.

During the occupation, intruders broke into one residence and let themselves into the dining hall at the field station. This broken door was the only visible damage from their visit.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

Uninvited visitors had broken into two of the center’s dozen or so buildings, but the damage was minor. One of last things he checked during the quick initial return visit was his beloved stereo system. It was still on, playing a Carl Nielsen symphony to the stuffed birds in the otherwise empty gift shop.   

“Through all of this, it’s been playing,” he said. “With all the craziness going on, this serene original music was playing in Harney County.”  

Evered returned to the field station for good just a few days after the arrests of the occupation leaders. He went back to work alongside FBI agents who had turned the center into a base for housing and operations while they negotiated with the remaining occupants.  

“It’s a valid use of the facilities,” Evered said, “and it’s a way of cooperating with the needs of the refuge.”  

Even though the last militants surrendered Feb. 11, the FBI is still using the field station while the crime scene investigation at the refuge continues. Evered has been busy with building maintenance and facilities at the field station.  

Evered anxiously checks on buildings at the field station during the occupation of the refuge.

Evered anxiously checks on buildings at the field station during the occupation of the refuge.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

Ever the educator, he’s also insisted on showing FBI agents the birds.   

“I thought that it was very important that they were exposed to the dark skies, the silence, and this birdy refuge,” Evered said. “Even in the middle of winter it’s still quite bird-y.”    

Evered looks forward to the time when the only night noise he hears are the calls of wild geese and coyotes. And that will probably be soon. The law enforcement investigation wrapped up Tuesday, and the last FBI official has packed up and gone.

Evered said he could hear the cry of a single crane as the last agent left.

Dave Blanchard contributed to this story.

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