Over three weeks ago, a group of armed protesters descended on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Southeast Oregon with the goal of occupying the federally-owned land and facility until their sweeping demands are achieved. The group, led by Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy, wants the immediate release from prison of two local ranchers, and control of the refuge to shift from federal to county. Among other demands include the end of federal grazing permits, and the expansion of ranching, logging, and mining on federal land in Harney County.
The group is still occupying the facility, with more members joining and leaving throughout the three-plus weeks of the standoff. The media attention, which grew rapidly in the early days of the event, has dropped off considerably, but the standoff drags on. Calls for the group to leave have amped up in recent days as local leaders, politicians, tribal members, and even birdwatchers who frequent the refuge have made their frustrations known.
It’s one of the more unique situations I’ve covered as a photojournalist. I spent a few days in Burns and at the refuge in the first week of the occupation. Many of the ongoing developments in the story aren’t the most inherently visual, with lots of meetings and press conferences. I found that I photographed a number of landscapes in between other daily events. To me, the wide-open landscape was striking and important to convey the sense of place and what the conflict essentially boils down to – land and how it’s utilized. Some scenes from the standoff, meetings, and protest: