Wow! Thanks for sharing, Larry.
On Feb 2, 2016, at 2:05 PM, LTurner2@xxxxxxx wrote:
Thanks. This brings back many memories. I was a graduate teaching assistant
for Dr. David Malcolm at Portland State University in the late 60s. While I
was next getting my Ph.D. at the University of Arizona, he moved to Pacific
University and was largely responsible for putting together the initial
consortium of 19 northwest colleges and universities to start MEFS. He was
the first Director (non-resident). Then the consortium hired Denzel as
Director. Denzel had recently been hired as a faculty member at Portland
State after being on the faculty of Mississippi State College as a
herpetologist. He moved out to the station as resident director; Nancy (not
Ferguson initially) was the office person and in charge of the kitchen (and
except for summers, cook),
I was still in communication with Dr. Malcolm while in a temporary position
at the University of Minnesota, and he recommended I offer a summer course at
MEFS. So I applied and was accepted. The Minnesota temporary position was
extended a second year and then Denzel hired me as the assistant director
starting summer of 1973, using startup grant funds. My wife and I lived in
the western-most of the three houses; Denzel in the eastern-most. C. D.
Littlefield was a very visible presence with his sandhill research, and
George Feldhamer was the next year a quiet presence as he did graduate work
on mammals (George was later president of the American Mammal Society). I
still remember C. D.'s response to why there were holes in the toes of his
knee-high rubber boots. It was so that the water would drain out - because
he would park on Center Patrol Road and wade through the river when getting
to his crane nests, and he did not want boots full of water since the river
was waist high. (By the way, I exchanged letters with C. D. the year before
last and he was doing fine in Rodeo, NM just outside the Chiricahua
mountains; we had both been graduate students at the University of Arizona at
the same time.)
In 1973, there were 220 summer students (making us the third largest
population in Harney County after Burns and Hines) and a large number of
3-week courses ranging from various mammalogy, ornitholgy, field botany, and
other natural history courses to photography to geology, archaeology,
survival, and others. And other college faculty did research there; Karl
Urban discovered and named Malheur wire lettuce (Stephanomeria malheurensis,
now a federally endangered species) from just across hwy 205. The summer
program continued just as popularly at least for several years - I left MEFS
in late 1975 and Oregon in 1977 and lost touch with the programs.
As I recall, the then unnamed Greasewood Room was also developed in 1973, but
it could have been the next year. At the time, "On the Wings of a Snow White
Dove" and whatever the title was of "Our D I V O R C E became final today"
were the popular songs. Round dances were popular, and the refrigerator was
always stocked with Olympia - at least at the beginning of the evening.
Denzel and his first wife owned the Princeton store and gas station (she ran
it for a little while after they divorced) and so he had a beer distributor's
license. But he sold only Olympia beer, his favorite, on the field station.
I recall loads of a dozen cases coming in regularly. I learned that I could
not party 7 nights a week like C. D. and several others.
I think the students liked it also, but the faculty were enamored of the
3-week courses. The students could take only one at a time and so we could
go on several day field trips or go out late at night to study bats or owls
without any concern for other courses. Each course had a 15-passenger van.
Of course, activities, such as lizard thermoregulation or Steens fault block
geology, that allowed evenings at Alvord Hot Springs or Hart Mt hot springs
were very popular.
During the rest of the year, MEFS operated as a hotel and dining hall for all
sorts of classes that came out, ranging from classes for grade school blind
students to University field trips. Of course many birders came and stayed
as groups or independently. Starting about November and lasting until
February, there was essentially no activity except for C. D. and George.
Denzel and mostly I would go around to consortium schools presenting seminars
on our research (amphibian orientation for Denzel and Belding ground squirrel
ecology for me) or, more importantly, promoting the field station; we were
helped in the latter by a marvelous BBC program on Malheur Refuge that was
both hilarious and informative. ("It was getting winter; time for socks and
underwear" and the music theme was the same as was used in the Marlboro
cowboy ads, which always brought huge laughs.)
The refuge use controversy was already going on when I arrived. John
Scharff, refuge manager from 1935 until about 1970, is widely praised, and
justifiably so, for his refuge work over the years. However, he was also in
place for a very long time and developed a strong relationship with the
locals. As a result, there were far too many grazing permits on the refuge.
When he retired, Joe Mazzoni became refuge manager. Joe was one of a very
small group of FWS refuge managers (they had a name for the group, but I
forget) who would go into a refuge that was out of kilter, take the
appropriate steps to fix things, and then move on quickly while still able.
So Joe's job was to cut grazing permits. You can imagine how he local folks
thought about that. And cut he did. Joe had threats against him. He lived
in town. The back window of his pickup was shot out with a shotgun -
fortunately while parked and unoccupied. There were other threats. But Joe
finished what needed to be done and was transferred to the next place that
needed fixing. FWS will no longer leave managers in one place for more than
a few years, and Malheur was one of the big reasons.
The word "environmental" was not a popular word away from the refuge and
MEFS. Denzel talked about removing it from the name, but it was still there
when I left in 1975. I do not know when it was dropped. Even the refuge
maintenance staff, almost all local folks, had problems with cutting grazing
and MEFS. Those students who drank, partied, went nude in the hot springs,
and generally behaved like students did in the 1970s were too much for most
of the locals, although many of the merchants in town were very much in favor
of MEFS because of the money that it brought into the community. And the FWS
staff at the refuge and MEFS got along very well at that time.
I made a career move back east in 1977 and lost track of what went on in the
refuge and MEFS. I did visit the refuge one winter in the 1980s, but being
winter, there was no one at MEFS. After I retired and moved back west, I did
go out there, toured, met Duncan Everard and gave him a bunch of pictures
from the early days. I need to go back again.
But I sure appreciate the previous emails (below) that filled in a lot of
what happened after I left. I had friends who would keep me informed of the
major events like the flooded Highway 205 and Denzel running for Congress and
writing his book. But I now know a lot more of that intermediary period.
Thanks for jogging my memories.
In a message dated 2/1/2016 11:42:40 P.M. Pacific Standard Time,
Velta and Dave,
Thanks for the history. While I missed out on the Greasewood Room, I was
inspired as a young teacher by the evening lectures and field trips organized
by Denzel Ferguson during the weekend visit I made to the Field Station in
1972 or '73. I was on a bus trip sponsored by the Portland Zoo. For me it was
a great introduction to the Oregon high desert, and it led to other trips of
exploration and birding over the decades, and purchasing Denzel's book Sacred
Cows at the Public Trough in the eighties, and Welfare Ranching, edited by
George Wuerthner, in 2002. As with Dave, my wish is for a re-invigorated and
generously funded field station to inspire another generation of students,
scientists and teachers.
On Feb 1, 2016, at 10:28 PM, David Irons wrote:
This article truly tells it like it was. I'm old enough to have enjoyed a
few late nights in the "Greasewood Room" drinking cheap beer and listening
to heavily-scratched LPs (long-playing albums for you puppies in the forum)
featuring the music of the day along with some outlaw country classics like
Johnny Russell's "Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer." My memories
of those days still resonate, marking a period when my love affair with
Malheur and the Great Basin first blossomed and when I first came to
appreciate the impact that livestock makes on the high desert landscape.
I've been a guest in Denzel and Nancy's home and I still laugh any time I
think of Denzel using a bull horn to try to wake up Ron Holloway–the
maintenance man at the Malheur Field Station–after Ron passed out in the
middle of the Ferguson living room during a party. "WAKE UP RON, WAKE UP!"
That same evening, C.D. Littlefield, a long-time biologist, who studied
Sandhill Cranes on the refuge and later published "Birds of Malheur National
Wildlife Refuge (1990), crawled across the floor to where David Fix and I
were sitting and admonished us for not making more of an effort to publish
articles about what we were learning via all of our birding experiences.
Apparently we both took C.D.'s beer-fueled challenge to heart, for over the
subsequent years we have both written and co-authored a number of bird
articles and worked as authors and editors on more significant collaborative
works relating to birds.
The threats that were made towards Denzel and Nancy back then were very real
and they took them seriously. As I recall, at one point they were worried
enough that they invited a group of friends to come out and stay with them
at the station so that they wouldn't be left all alone as sitting ducks for
potential violence. Denzel was not one to mince words or mutter under his
breath about the damage he was seeing from cattle on the refuge. He spoke
loudly and often and potentially put himself in harm's way with his
locally-unpopular opinions on this topic.
Running for Congress as an anti-cattle Democrat in Oregon's 2nd
Congressional District was as much a fools errand back then as it would be
today, but it did provide Denzel with a pulpit to preach his message, at
least for one election cycle. His was a courageous stand and while a
political victory was not in the cards, his efforts coupled with those of
others, seem to have precipitated some of the improvements in federal
rangeland management that we see today. As outspoken and vehement as Denzel
might have been in his opposition to cattle on the refuge, so far as I know
he never resorted to violence, the threat of violence, vandalism of federal
or private property, or any illegal action. If a protest can be
simultaneously loud and peaceful, Denzel's was. The mere mention of his name
probably still elicits some angered responses in Harney County.
The Malheur Environmental Field Station (MEFS, as it was called then) was a
vibrant place under Denzel and Nancy Ferguson's stewardship, which spanned
most of the 1970's and into the early 1980's. It benefited from financial
support that came from many colleges and universities around the Pacific
Northwest. It also benefited from the back-to-nature culture and
environmental activism that came in response to the widespread realization
that DDT, oil spills, strip-mining, intensive logging, monoculture forestry
practices, pesticide usage, overgrazing and other environmental catastrophes
were major threats to the future of the planet and its wildlife. College
students gobbled up opportunities to study earth sciences and the station
offered a remarkable array of upper division college-credit field classes
each summer. Enthusiasm for such things waned in subsequent decades and
various budget crises gradually eroded the financial support that fueled the
glory days of MEFS. Although the money doesn't seem to be available, I have
to think that if the Malheur Field Station was again able to offer the sort
of educational experience that it once did, many today's college-age
students, who are essentially the progeny of the first generation MEFS
alumni and their peers, would jump at the unique opportunity to learn about
this landscape the same way their parents did.
If there is a silver lining to this occupation, I hope it comes in the form
of renewed support and appreciation for the refuge and the unique
educational opportunities that a well-funded Malheur Field Station
might provide. I never took a summer class at the station and it remains one
of very few things in my life that I truly regret.
Subject: [boo] Some history - Nancy and Denzel Ferguson at Malheur
Date: Mon, 1 Feb 2016 20:48:52 -0800
Copied from comments to Oregonian report -
In 1980, bird-watching visitors to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
complained that the cows were destroying critical wildlife habitat. So Nancy
and Denzel Ferguson, the husband-and-wife naturalist team who lived just
down the road from the sanctuary headquarters, started a letter-writing
campaign to draw attention to grazing abuses.
They got some cattle off the refuge, but ranchers were furious. The
Fergusons received telephone death threats on many nights. A group of
ranchers threw them out of a local dance in the early '80s.
That night, a caller told Nancy that "a bunch of us guys are coming over to
get you." She politely asked who was calling. "Dwight Hamm—" she recalls the
caller stammered, before being drowned out by other voices in the background.
Dwight Hammond Jr., the same rancher whose prison sentence for arson sparked
the militants' recent takeover of the refuge's headquarters, had been one of
the people whom Nancy says pushed the Fergusons out of the dance. (Hammond
and his son Steven Hammond are in federal prison. Larry Matasar, the
Hammonds' attorney, declined to comment.)
The claims of the armed men now occupying the federal building in Harney
County would be all too familiar to Denzel Ferguson. After earning a Ph.D.
from Oregon State University in zoology, he spent a quarter-century fighting
to protect public lands from ranchers who thought they had a right to use
them however they pleased.
For an aging group of Western natural history buffs, Malheur will be forever
linked to Denzel and Nancy Ferguson. For most of the 1970s, the Fergusons
ran the Malheur Field Station, an environmental education outpost housed in
a former Job Corps center at the edge of the sanctuary.
Twenty-two colleges and universities funded the station, which offered
summer classes for budding biologists, botanists and birders. Nancy and
Denzel lived at the station as resident faculty, while visiting students
bunked in nearby dormitories. The beer-soaked parties held in the drab,
tin-sided building called the Greasewood Room were legendary among baby
boom-era college kids.
But the Fergusons were serious about protecting the southeastern corner of
Oregon they called home. Their time at Malheur exposed them to the
environmental degradation caused by a century of unrestricted cattle grazing.
Much of the refuge land was devoted to either grazing or growing hay, and
the wildlife supposedly protected in this special place was often killed by
farm machinery or displaced by cattle. More than 400 miles of barbed-wire
fence snaked across the refuge, and the Fergusons often found the desiccated
remains of deer and other animals caught in the jagged strands.
The Fergusons' outspoken criticism of what they called "hooved locusts" on
the refuge and other sensitive public lands took a toll. After a decade of
running the field station, they left in 1982 and moved to rural Grant
County. Nancy and Denzel wrote Sacred Cows at the Public Trough, the first
book to challenge the myth of the Western rancher and seriously question a
century of unrestrained grazing on public land.
Denzel Ferguson ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1992 but lost to incumbent
U.S. Rep. Bob Smith (R-Ore.) in the mostly Republican 2nd District. Ferguson
called Smith "a tax-supported beef lobbyist" for his efforts to keep grazing
fees down, and quipped, "I hold no grazing permits on public land, so you
will only have to pay me once."
The Fergusons' book details how "welfare ranchers" profit from federal
subsidies and public spending. The current standoff is about money, too;
federal officials say the Bundy family owes $1 million in unpaid grazing
fees, and the Hammonds have a history of running cattle on public land
Denzel died in 1998, to the very end ranting about the cows tearing up the
landscape he loved. Nancy still lives in Eastern Oregon. She says Denzel
wouldn't be surprised by the militants now holding the refuge hostage: "It's
just like what he'd seen before."
And for the protesters' claims about returning the land to the original
owners? "He'd laugh at them," she says, "and he'd say, 'Let's give it back
to the Paiutes.'