Although the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility may seem to have done little more than camp out with guns and demand snacks, their continuing occupation is costing taxpayers dearly.
Local and federal government facilities have had to be closed, keeping public employees unable to complete their work. Harney County, which houses the preserve, schools were closed last week, adding teachers to the list of employees on paid leave and preventing students from learning. Police and security has been brought in to protect the townspeople from the armed militiamen — who have threatened law enforcement and other county officials. The occupied reserve, a valuable tourist attraction for the area, is closed to re-creators. All of those costs and losses add up.
Cost to the County: $70,000 Per Day
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty told outraged community members that he’d send the Bundys a bill for what they’d cost the county — which he estimates to be “$60,000 to $70,000 a day” for the closed schools and government offices and the drastic ramp-up in security.
Despite Judge Grasty’s threats, he doesn’t seem optimistic about actually recouping their losses. He reiterated the threat to the New York Daily News, but clarified that he doesn’t expect Mr. Bundy to pony up: “Will he pay it? No.”
These estimates for security don’t include the additional cost of the FBI presence and support, just the cost to the rural community around the reserve — which is bearing the brunt of the economic fallout.
Cost to the Federal Taxpayer: $23,400 Per Day
Along with the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility, three buildings maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have also shut down because of the security threat to employees. The Bureau of Land Management’s district office in Burns, Oregon alone employs nearly 120 employees — most of who are now on paid administrative leave. The weekly cost of those workers — who now are unable to work — is about $117,000 per week, or $23,400 per day.
Not included in this cost are the 50 additional employees at at the refuge center or the Forest Service’s Emigrant Creek Ranger District office. Many of these workers are also on paid leave, which means the actual cost may be even greater.
Cost in Lost Tourism: $40,000 Per Day
The economic impact of birders, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists is no joke. Nationally, these groups contribute some $140 billion and hundreds of thousands of jobs to the economy each year – a strong economic force for many small businesses, towns, and counties like Harney.
The Malheur Wildlife Refuge is no exception. It attracts 119,000 recreational visitors a year, who come to see its 190 thousand acres of prime wildlife habitat, housing 320 species of birds, 58 mammals and 10 species of native fish. These visitors spend around $15 million each year, according to a 2013 report from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
$15 million a year averages down to over $40,000 a day, meaning Harney County has lost, as an estimate, a staggering $360,000 in recreation dollars since the armed takeover began.
Total Cost: $133,400 Per Day
$70,000 in security costs and closed schools. $23,400 in federal salaries. $40,000 a day lost in recreation dollars. The cost of the nine-day takeover adds up to roughly $1,200,600. Each additional day adds $133,400 to the total, and for the beleaguered Harney county, there’s no end in sight.