By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

Federal lands

Most of the land in Harney County is managed by the federal government, primarily by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, which employ most of the federal workers in the county.

Federal employment

Of the nearly 7,300 residents, about 240, work for the federal government. Most of the federal jobs, about 130, are in the administration of environmental and conservation programs.

The bulk of the county’s workers, 61 percent, are age 25 to 54, and the county in November 2015 had an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, with 243 people unemployed out of a workforce of 3,327.

Sources: Portland State University, Oregon Employment Department, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters have railed for nearly two weeks against the federal government.

In rural Harney County, the federal government is not some far away agency. It is a significant employer, providing about 240 jobs to county residents, according to data from the Oregon Department of Employment.

“The bulk of those jobs are going to be Bureau of Land Management and (U.S.) Forest Service,” Chris Rich, Eastern Oregon regional economist for the department said Wednesday.

Ranching provides about 100 jobs, according to the state, and hay growing about 65 jobs.

Since the occupation began on Jan. 2 at the refuge headquarters southeast of Burns, Ammon Bundy, his brother, Ryan Bundy, and their supporters have aired their grievances with the federal government at regular news conferences.

The Bundys — sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who earned fame for his 2014 standoff with federal officers — have said they do not plan to leave until the federal government hands over control of public lands there to the people of the county.

For County Judge Steve Grasty, the highest elected official in the county, the number of federal workers is just another sign of an economy holding on to agriculture as a driver. The agencies manage public land. “The only industry that we have left is the agriculture industry,” he said.

There are two pieces to the agriculture industry in Harney County, Grasty said: grazing, which mainly occurs on public land, and hay production, which mainly occurs on private land.

Chief among the Bundy’s gripes is how the BLM manages grazing in Harney County and around the West.

Harney County covers more than 10,100 square miles. About 6,000 square miles of it — about 60 percent — is overseen by the BLM, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the BLM. Much more spacious than the close cluster of counties around Oregon’s population center in the Portland metropolitan area, Harney County encompasses more than 10 percent of the state and an area 35 times that of Crater Lake National Park. It’s the largest county in Oregon.

Being a big county means few people per square mile, with the 2010 Census showing there was less than one person per square mile, 0.7 people per square mile to be exact. In contrast, Oregon as a whole has about 40 people per square mile and Deschutes County has more than 50 people per square mile.

Governments in general are big employers in Harney County, with local and state government agencies providing about 750 jobs combined, according to Oregon Employment Department.

The commotion and closures caused by the ongoing occupation at the refuge have been costly for the county, Grasty said. Last week, when schools were closed because of the occupation, he estimates it cost the county about $60,000 a day. The cost is less this week with school back in session.

Grasty plans on sending an invoice Friday to the militants at the refuge.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In a box about federal employment accompanying the original version of the story, the number of people unemployed and the date that figure was from were incorrect. The Bulletin regrets the errors.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,