Writings and observations

The occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, acting ostensibly in protest of the imprisonment of members of the area’s Hammond family, are protesting as well in a more general sense the federal activity and management of many of the lands in the area.

A quick review of how the refuge center, which they’re now occupying, came to be, might be in order.

The push for a wildlife refuge in the area began in earnest around 1918 after so-far unsuccessful attempts to rebuild key elements of a bird population that had been mostly killed off around the turn of the century. With the purchase of more than 60,000 acres of ranch land in 1935, the effort got more serious. But improvements and needed infrastructure came with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which in the later 30s built not only that but also much of the other infrastructure in the remote area southeast of Bend.

From the refuge’s history:

The three CCC camps on Malheur Refuge left behind an incredible legacy that remains today. Initial projects undertaken by the camps included fencing over 200 miles of the Refuge boundary; some of this fence is still in use today. Cattle guards were installed at all access points to the Refuge to prevent trespass by adjacent cattle. At refuge headquarters, work began on construction of four stone buildings (two residences, an office and a barn) to better manage the Refuge. The CCC also extended the telephone lines from the Narrows to refuge headquarters, and then on to the communities of Diamond and Frenchglen.

The telephone lines followed improved or new roads. Major portions of Highway 205 south of the Narrows were surveyed and constructed by enrollees from all three camps. This not only improved access to the camps and made transportation of materials more efficient, but enhanced the transportation network used by refuge neighbors. The enrollees also improved access to the community of Diamond as bridges were constructed across the Donner und Blitzen River. Along portions of the river channelized by the Eastern Oregon Land and Livestock Company in the early part of the century, enrollees used dozers to sculpt the dredge piles into a network of roads that would traverse the center of the valley. Over 35 miles of road would provide access to the center of the refuge for better management of the newly acquired lands. Seven bridges were constructed by the CCC along this newly created Center Patrol Road.

As work progressed over the next seven years the CCC enrollees would construct five concrete diversion dams on the Donner und Blitzen River. Several of these dams replaced existing smaller wood structures left over from the ranching days. All five dams improved diversion of irrigation water along hundreds of miles of new or revamped irrigation ditches. Major diversion ditches, including the Buena Vista Canal, the East and West Canals, Ram Ditch and the Stubblefield Canal, increased the amount of water that could be diverted over a greater distance in the Blitzen Valley. Much of this water was directed to new ponds (the Buena Vista Ponds, Wrights Pond, the Knox Ponds, and Boca Lake) that were crafted from the valley floor.

As transportation improved across the refuge, the CCC also made significant improvements elsewhere on the Refuge. Two large shop buildings and a residence were constructed at Buena Vista Station to facilitate management of the north end of the valley. At the south end of the valley major renovations were made to Pete French’s White House to improve living conditions for new Refuge employees. Existing ranch buildings at the P Ranch were modified for new Refuge uses. An addition was also added to back of the Frenchglen Hotel, which became part of the Refuge with the purchase of the Blitzen Valley.

Not a lot of “improvements” have been added to the area since.

The occupiers might reflect on that, too, as they wait through the winter days and nights at the refuge headquarters. – rs (photo/Malheur Wildlife Refuge)

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