Oregon town on edge as armed protesters take over wildlife refuge

BURNS, Ore. -- People in this rural eastern Oregon town are used to worrying about friction between the federal government and locals, but the armed takeover of a nearby national wildlife refuge is raising concerns to a new high.

See Full Article

Keith Landon, a longtime resident of Burns and employee at the Reid Country Store, said he knows local law enforcement officials who fear their kids will be targeted by angry militia members. The mother of one of his kids is now involved with an officer, Landon said, and they decided to send their children to another town after they were allegedly threatened by an angry protester.

"I'm hoping most of it's just muscle, trying to push," Landon said. "But it's a scary thing."

Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires that burned on federal land in 2001 and 2006. Though they served their original sentences for the conviction - Dwight serving three months, Steven serving one year - an appellate judge ruled in October that the terms were too short under federal minimum sentencing laws.

Both men were ordered back to prison for four years each. They have said they plan to turn themselves in Monday.

The decision to send the man back to prison generated controversy and is part of a decades-long dispute between some Westerners and the federal government over the use of public lands.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy are among those occupying the refuge. Their father, Cliven Bundy, was involved in a 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights in Nevada.

Ryan Bundy told The Associated Press Sunday he hopes to turn the land over to local authorities so people can use it free of federal oversight. He said he hopes the takeover of the property will prompt others to take action across the country to seize local control of federally managed land. Ammon Bundy has previously called on members of militia groups to take a stand with those at the refuge.

On Sunday afternoon, several pickup trucks blocked the entrance to the refuge and armed men wearing camouflage and winter gear used radios to alert those at the refuge buildings when reporters were allowed onto the property.

A small flock of pheasants wandered across the refuge driveway, scattering as men driving utility vehicles traversed the property. Ryan Bundy declined to say how many people were at the site.

"The end goal here is that we are here to restore the rights to the people here so that they can use the land and resources. All of them," Bundy said. That means ranchers can graze their cattle on the land, miners can use their mineral rights, loggers can cut trees and hunters and fishers can recreate, he said.

He said they planned on staying at the refuge as long as it takes. If the situation turns violent, Bundy contends it will be because of the federal government's actions.

"I mean, we're here to restore order, we're here to restore rights and that can go peacefully and easily," Bundy said.

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in a statement Sunday that 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 over throw the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States," Ward said.

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.

At a restaurant near the refuge Sunday, a local man eating supper said he understood the sentiment but didn't necessarily support the methods of the group. He wouldn't give his name because he said he feared being caught between the federal government and the militia.

Landon, who was a logger until the federal government declared the spotted owl a protected species in the 1980s, damaging the local logging industry, said he also sympathizes with the frustrations expressed by the Bundys.

"The spotted owl started the downfall of our community, then (President) Clinton made the Steens Mountains a wilderness area or whatever. Five generations of ranchers that had been on the Steens, kicked them off. And then management of the wildfires, it totally changed the region," Landon said. "It's hard to discredit what they're trying to do out there. But I don't want anybody hurt."

He said on the surface, it doesn't look like much has changed in Burns, a high desert town of about 2,700 people.

Most of the hotels in the area are booked full, and he's noticed that law enforcement officers are now doing their patrols in pairs instead of singly. But the biggest difference since the takeover is the undercurrent of worry, he said.

"It's weird - I woke up this morning expecting the town to be crawling with this and that agency. But you don't see any of it. They're keeping a low presence," Landon said.

Landon was happy the protesters seized land outside of Burns.

"I'm glad they took the refuge because it's 30 miles away. I mean, they could have took the courthouse here in town."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Moroccan premier forms government, ending 5-month crisis

    World News CTV News
    RABAT, Morocco -- Morocco's new Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani has succeeded in building a governing coalition, ending a five-month political deadlock after just eight days in office. El Othmani, 61, of the Islamist Party for Justice and Development, or PJD, announced Saturday in a press conference in Rabat that an "agreement has been reached" with six political parties to form a coalition government. Source
  • Congolese militia decapitates more than 40 police officers

    World News CTV News
    BENI, Congo -- A Congolese militia group has decapitated 42 policemen after ambushing them in an increasingly violent region where the U.N. is searching for missing American and Swedish investigators, a local official said Saturday. Source
  • Suspect in fatal shooting on Las Vegas Strip surrenders after standoff

    World News CBC News
    The suspect in a fatal shooting on the Las Vegas Strip on Saturday surrendered to police after barricading himself inside a bus. The standoff began after a report of shots fired on Las Vegas Boulevard in the heart of the Strip. Source
  • Suspect shooting at passing trucks on B.C. highway: RCMP

    Canada News CTV News
    PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. -- RCMP say they've received numerous calls from truck drivers reporting that someone shot at their vehicles on a B.C. highway. Police say the incidents occurred over an eight-hour period starting Friday night on Highway 97 between Houston and 100 Mile House in the province's central and northern Interior. Source
  • 1 dead on Vegas Strip shooting, gunman barricaded on bus

    World News CTV News
    LAS VEGAS -- A gunman barricaded himself inside a bus Saturday along the Las Vegas Strip after a shooting that left one person dead, officials said. The attack prompted a partial closure of the busy boulevard. Source
  • Security, parking, garbage irk Ivanka Trump's D.C. neighbours

    World News CBC News
    ?Residents of a posh Washington neighbourhood say Ivanka Trump and her family don't make for very good neighbours, taking up much of the parking on an already crowded street and leaving trash bags at the curb for days. Source
  • Liberals must sell budget to premiers after 'challenging' health talks

    Canada News CBC News
    Liberal MPs stuck around Ottawa on a rare Saturday to hammer out a plan to sell their recent budget to the public in the coming weeks, but the government also will have to move past the bruising experienced during the health accord negotiations to get the premiers on board. Source
  • Elderly couple flying to Michigan taken to wrong gate, end up in N.Y.

    World News Toronto Sun
    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A 96-year-old woman and an 89-year-old man were wheeled to the wrong gate at a South Florida airport and ended up on a flight to upstate New York instead of Michigan. Helen Wheeker and her husband, George Nobel, ended up Ogdensburg, N.Y. Source
  • Self-driving Uber SUV hits vehicle in Arizona

    World News Toronto Sun
    TEMPE, Ariz. — Officials say a self-driving Uber SUV was operating on its own when it was struck by another vehicle making a left turn at an intersection in Arizona, where the company is testing autonomous vehicles. Source
  • Woman ordered to return dog after taking off with pair of pooches post-breakup

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- A woman who took off with two dogs she had shared with her ex-boyfriend has been ordered to return one of the pooches after a bitter ownership dispute. Matthew MacDonald told a Nova Scotia small claims court that he purchased the Yorkshire terriers while he was living with his "on-again, off-again" girlfriend Brittany Pearl in Fort McMurray, Alta. Source