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Price tag for standoff at Oregon wildlife refuge totals $6 million

Price tag for standoff at Oregon wildlife refuge totals $6 million
Cattle graze on lowland grasses on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will spend roughly $4 million to clean, repair and upgrade the Oregon wildlife refuge that was the site of a 41-day armed occupation by ranchers earlier this year.

Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said he wanted the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns to become a symbol to the rest of the country that collaboration, not confrontation, endures, the Oregonian reported. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made similar statements during her visit to the refuge earlier this week.

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Photos of the refuge shared by federal officials show that the ranchers left a mess inside the building.

The compound is undergoing a giant spring cleaning, using industrial vacuums and cargo trailers filled with cleaning supplies. Repairing damage and removing debris are expected to continue until early summer.

In all, the standoff will cost Fish and Wildlife about $6 million, with about $2 million spent during the takeover. That includes the costs of moving the refuge's 17 employees out of town for safety to live in hotels for weeks at the government's expense, Ashe said.

Fish biologist Linda Beck says she's glad to be back on the job, but the biggest cost of the standoff was missed work.

Beck and a team of biologists were planning to have invasive carp removed by commercial fishing because the fish consume habitat needed by birds. At the beginning of the year, Malheur Lake covered about 3,000 acres. It has since grown to about 20,000 acres.

"We lost the opportunity to fish for these fish in a really condensed setting," Beck said.

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