U.S. wildlife agency questioned on estimate of Oregon standoff costs

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[March 28, 2016]  By Alex Dobuzinskis
 (Reuters) - An attorney for a leader of the recent 41-day armed protest at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon on Saturday questioned the $6 million price tag cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for dealing with the occupation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe said at a news conference in Oregon on Wednesday those costs included $1.7 million for restoration of the refuge near Burns and increased law enforcement patrols elsewhere after the six-week occupation, which ended on Feb. 11.

In response, Michael Arnold, an attorney for protest leader Ammon Bundy who faces conspiracy and weapons charges in connection with the occupation, said the government should not use the protest as a blank check for unwarranted expenses.

"This protest should not be a government expenditure lottery ticket," Arnold said. "I've only heard of one wall damaged in the whole set of buildings."

The protest marked the latest flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gavin Shire said on Saturday, in response to Arnold's contentions, the agency's figures include a "range of damages," from roads and trenches created by the occupiers to the harm inflicted on sacred American Indian artifacts.

"The amount does not address as no dollar figure can the emotional harm that service staff and their families suffered as a result of the hostile takeover," Shire said.

The agency had to relocate 17 employees from the center, when those workers moved with their families to major cities because of threats against them, Ashe said earlier this week.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife also spent $2.5 million to station more law enforcement officers at its Western facilities, because it feared anti-government protest could spread beyond eastern Oregon where armed activists staged their occupation, Ashe said.

That represented the largest share of the more than $6 million spent by the agency, Ashe said.

Oregon lawmakers this month voted to set aside $2 million for Harney County, the location of the protest, to reimburse it for police overtime and other costs if the federal government does not underwrite those expenses.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which headed a law enforcement operation to encircle and arrest several of the anti-government protesters, has not released its expenditures from the occupation.

More than 25 participants in the protest have been charged in federal court.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Trott and James Dalgleish)

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