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Refuge Employees, Occupation Supporter Take Stand In Malheur Refuge Trial


The testimony of two Malheur National Wildlife Refuge employees on Monday offered firsthand accounts of how work on the refuge was affected during the 41-day takeover of the grounds.

Fish biologist Linda Beck testified that the occupation of the refuge delayed work she was doing to deal with invasive carp. 

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An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Ongoing coverage of the federal case against the people involved in the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and how life has changed in Harney County, Oregon.

Testifying for the prosecution in the trial of seven occupiers, Beck said she and other U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service workers planned a large operation to reduce the carp population in Malheur Lake and its tributaries at the end of January 2016. But Beck, who works at the refuge and lives on a family ranch in Harney County, said she could not get onto the refuge to perform the removal duties because of the 41-day takeover. 

Prosecutors showed photographs of Beck’s office that appeared in the media. Several photos showed Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and Shawna Cox using her space. There were also several photos of people holding weapons in her office and guns leaning against the wall in her workspace. Prosecutors asked Beck whether the weapons were hers. Her response: “I’m not allowed to have guns in my office.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has now released photos of the scene that awaited them when they returned to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

 

She also described her return to the refuge on Feb. 17 after the occupation ended: “I would describe it as completely trashed,” she said.

During her testimony, the jury was also shown a photo of the boat launch at Malheur Lake. In the photo, dozens of pink evidence flags adorn the ground near the launch. 

Marcus Mumford, the lawyer for occupation leader Ammon Bundy, asked Beck if she knew what those flags were.

She said the flags marked spent ammunition casings near the lake.

“Before this photo was taken there were even more pink flags,” she said. “There were hundreds,” to the point, she said, she couldn’t move out to the boat launch without stepping on the pink flags and disturbing evidence.

Also taking the stand for the prosecution was Carla Burnside, an archaeologist at the refuge.

Burnside said when she returned to the refuge with FBI agents in February, her office, which she said she always locked, was unlocked. The handle was broken to the point that it wouldn’t latch; personal items were missing; her computer had been accessed, she told the court.    

The focus then shifted from refuge employees to another group — the Burn Paiute tribe, whose artifacts are stored on the refuge.

Burnside said an unwritten agreement between the refuge and the tribe had been in place since she arrived at the refuge in 1990. As artifacts are discovered, they are stored at the refuge because the tribe wants the items to remain in the Harney Basin, Burnside said. The prosecution had shown video of occupiers Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and David Fry going through artifacts.

One of the day’s final witness, however, was not a refuge employee, but instead a soft-spoken, 23-year-old Harney County resident who participated in the occupation.

Nick Bleuler, who has not been charged in connection with the takeover, told the court that his fiancée drove him to the refuge during beginning of the occupation. As the couple pulled up to the refuge in a Ford Crown Victoria, a car often used by law enforcement, Bleuler said a circle of men pointed their guns at them. Bleuler said he thought the group reacted that way because of the model of the car — they thought he was law enforcement. Bleuler’s fiancée backed up the car and the two left the refuge.

Bleuler returned to the refuge two more times. During one of those visits, he was involved in the removal of cameras the FBI installed on utility poles at two location along roads leading to the refuge. The FBI agent who installed them testified Monday that the cameras were designed to read license plates.

A video shown to the jury depicts Finicum climbing up a ladder and removed two cameras out of a mounted box. Jon Ritzheimer and Ryan Bundy were also present and helped. At another site, Bleuler held the ladder. 

Bleuler was not charged in connection with the camera incident, but a friend of his was. During cross-examination by Mumford, Bleuler was said the blame fell on him and his friend because the people who were really involved were on the refuge.

“Because you were all at the refuge, so it came down on two local kids with a troubled past,” Bleuler said.

Testimony continues Tuesday morning with FBI agents and USFWS workers scheduled to take the stand.

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