The armed group occupying Malheur now is just the latest posse with a plan and a claim on the remote spot. Native American tribes, cattle barons, trappers, farmers and wildlife advocates have all fought over what’s now known as Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for centuries.

Nancy Langston wrote a book on the sensitive area’s complicated ecology and history. Langston said Malheur is one of the few remaining inland wetlands protected for a staggering variety of birds and wildlife.

“There’s been so much intense development – especially in California and particularly for agriculture, rice for example, and pretty intense droughts down in California that these wildlife refuges have become extraordinarily important,” she said.

Langston said under different regimes the Malheur’s waterways and lands have been diked, drained down for irrigation, used for cattle watering and grazing, and even planted with invasive non-native carp.