MILITIA SEIZES REFUGE
Armed protesters in Oregon take over wildlife headquarters to support resentenced ranchers.
burns, ore.» The remote high desert of eastern Oregon became the latest flashpoint for anti-government sentiment as armed protesters occupied a national wildlife refuge to object to a prison sentence for local ranchers for burning federal land.
Ammon Bundy — the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights — is among the people at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It was unclear exactly how many people were participating.
Ammon Bundy posted a video on his Facebook page asking for militia members to come help him. Bundy and other militia members came to Burns last month, a small town about 280 miles southeast of Portland. They were upset over the looming prison sentences for ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. They went to the wildlife refuge Saturday evening after a peaceful rally in Burns to support the ranchers.
Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit the fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.
The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But a federal judge ruled in October that their terms were too short under U.S. minimum sentencing law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
The decision generated controversy and is part of a decades-long dispute between some Westerners and the federal government over the use of public lands. The issue traces back to the 1970s and the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a move by Western states such as Nevada to increase local control over federal land. Critics of the push for more local control have said the federal government should administer the public lands for the widest possible uses, including environmental and recreation.
Bundy said the group planned to stay at the refuge indefinitely. On Sunday, supplies were seen being delivered to the refuge area, which is remote even by rural Oregon standards.
Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Monday as ordered by the judge.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said the group of armed protesters came to town under false pretenses.
“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.
The sheriff says he is working with local and federal authorities to keep the citizens in his county safe and to resolve the situation as quickly and peacefully as possible. He is asking people to stay away from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for their own safety. He said he does not think any other parts of the county are in immediate danger.
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said the agency was aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge. She made no further comment.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who had been briefed by the FBI agent in charge in Portland, said most local residents do not support the protesters.
“The overwhelming majority of people there very much want to get on with their lives without this disruption and are not in sympathy with a bunch of outsiders,” Wyden told The Associated Press.
Protesters march along Court Avenue in Burns, Ore., on Saturday. They are upset over the looming prison sentences for ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. Les Zaitz, The Oregonian