‘Pick up and go home’

Ore­gon sher­iff draws cheers as he tells armed group to end stand­off

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cheers erupted at a packed com­mu­nity meet­ing in ru­ral Ore­gon when a sher­iff said it was time for a small, armed group oc­cu­py­ing a na­tional wildlife refuge to “pick up and go home”.

The group ob­ject­ing to fed­eral land pol­icy seized build­ings at the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge on Satur­day. Au­thor­i­ties have not yet moved to re­move the group of roughly two dozen peo­ple, some from as far away as Ari­zona and Michi­gan. The group also ob­jects to a lengthy prison sen­tence for two lo­cal ranch­ers con­victed of ar­son.

“I’m here to­day to ask those folks to go home and let us get back to our lives,” Har­ney County Sher­iff David Ward said Wed­nes­day evening.

Schools were closed fol­low­ing the seizure of the refuge be­cause of safety con­cerns in this small town in east­ern Ore­gon’s high desert coun­try and ten­sions have risen. Ward told the hun­dreds gath­ered at the meet­ing he hoped the com­mu­nity would put up a “united front” to peace­fully re­solve the con­flict.

Group leader Am­mon Bundy has told re­porters they will leave when there’s a plan in place to turn over fed­eral lands to lo­cals.

Sev­eral peo­ple spoke in sup­port of Bundy and his fol­low­ers at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing.

“They are wak­ing peo­ple up,” said 80-year-old Mer­lin Rupp, a long-time lo­cal res­i­dent. “They are just making a state­ment for us, to wake us up.”

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day the leader of an Amer­i­can In­dian tribe that re­gards the pre­serve as sa­cred is­sued a re­buke to Am­mon’s group, say­ing they are not wel­come at the snowy bird sanc­tu­ary and must leave.

“The pro­test­ers have no right to this land. It be­longs to the na­tive peo­ple who live here,” Burns Paiute Tribal leader Char­lotte Ro­drique said.

Bundy is de­mand­ing that the refuge be handed over to lo­cals.

Ro­drique said she “had to laugh” at the de­mand, be­cause she knew Bundy was not talk­ing about giv­ing the land to the tribe.

The stand­off in ru­ral Ore­gon is a con­tin­u­a­tion of a long-run­ning dis­pute over fed­eral poli­cies cov­er­ing the use of pub­lic lands, in­clud­ing graz­ing. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­trols about half of all land in the West. For ex­am­ple, it owns 53 per cent of Ore­gon, 85 per cent of Ne­vada and 66 per cent of Utah, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice.

The Bundy fam­ily is among many peo­ple in the West who con­tend lo­cal of­fi­cials could do a bet­ter job of man­ag­ing pub­lic lands than the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The ar­gu­ment is re­jected by those who say the U.S. gov­ern­ment is bet­ter equipped to man­age pub­lic lands for all those who want to make use of them.

Among those groups are Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

AP PHOTO

Cow­boy Dwane Eh­mer, of Ir­rigon, Ore., a sup­porter of the group oc­cu­py­ing the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, walks his horse Thurs­day.

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