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Utah Supporters Dispute Oregon Refuge Damage Estimates

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated last week that the armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon had caused nearly $6 million in damage, but Utah friends and family of the occupiers are disputing those claims.  

The supporters said their pictures show that the protestors were tidy and careful during the 41-day protest of what they call federal overreach.

“There were no broken windows,” said Utah gun-rights activist Janalee Tobias, who says she saw firsthand that the occupiers were good stewards. “There wasn’t even a piece of paper out of place. They respected the property because that’s the kind of people they are. And I feel compelled to speak up for them.”

Thara Tenney also disputed the damage reports. Her father, LaVoy Finicum was killed by state troopers in January at a roadblock outside the refuge. She met with reporters at the State Capitol Tuesday to say the damage claim is “absurd.”

“I know that the government is not forthright and honest, and this is just one more testimony of how corrupt and fraudulent and dishonest they are,” she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service photos released last week tell a different story. Agency spokeswoman Miel Corbett said the mess the illegal occupiers left includes everything from ruined carpet and missing personal equipment to a trench and a road dug into Native American sites.

“This cost is being borne by the taxpayer directly from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget.”

Federal investigators scoured the site for evidence after the occupation ended six weeks ago. Workers are preparing for the refuge to reopen.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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