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

  • Video captures moment ride malfunctions at Ohio State Fair; 1 killed, 7 hurt

    World News Toronto Sun
    COLUMBUS, Ohio — A swinging and spinning amusement park ride called the Fire Ball broke apart on the opening day of the Ohio State Fair on Wednesday, hurling people through the air, killing at least one and injuring seven others. Source
  • Argentina sentences 4 ex-judges for dictatorship-era crimes

    World News CTV News
    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Four former federal judges in Argentina were sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the country's last dictatorship in a ruling human rights groups are calling historic for punishing the regime's civilian accomplices. Source
  • B.C. wildfire forces evacuations, threatens structures near Kamloops

    Canada News CTV News
    KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- A rapidly-moving wildfire has forced people to flee dozens of properties east of Kamloops, B.C. The Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order for 39 properties in Monte Lake Wednesday night, saying a fire burning in the area posed an "imminent threat" to people and property. Source
  • Cellphone video shot by California inmates shows escape

    World News CTV News
    SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Video shot by three inmates with a smuggled cellphone shows their methodical escape through a vent at the maximum-security wing of a Southern California jail last year, along with scenes from their days on the run. Source
  • North Korea mysteriously cancels beer fest, but unveils new brew

    World News CTV News
    PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of -- North Korea has suddenly cancelled a popular monthlong beer festival, but people won't be going thirsty in a country where brews are cheap and carry the ruling family's seal of approval. Source
  • Meet George Payette, Canada’s last known grain elevator repairman

    Canada News CTV News
    Standing like sentinels over the Canadian prairies, grain elevators were once a ubiquitous site. But over time, hundreds have been demolished. To preserve those that still stand, there’s George Payette -- Canada’s last known grain elevator repairman. Source
  • Protesters gather in NYC against Trump ban on transgender troops

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Demonstrators have flocked to a military recruiting station in New York City to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's abrupt ban on transgender troops in the military. A crowd of at least a couple of hundred people gathered around the U.S. Source
  • Protesters gather against Trump ban on transgender troops

    World News CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- Demonstrators have flocked to a military recruiting station in New York City and gathered at a plaza named for a San Francisco gay-rights icon on Wednesday to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's abrupt ban on transgender troops in the military. Source
  • Drop that boombox: Music-playing hikers have Calgary man singing the blues

    Canada News CBC News
    Kris LaBelle and his son love hiking in Kananaskis County. They get out as often as they can, but a recent trend has the Calgary man singing the blues. "There seems to be a current trend, it seems to be novice or new hikers, that have been bringing out portable speakers and they have been playing music as they hike," LaBelle told CBC News. Source
  • Visa gift card sold with missing numbers leaves Ont. couple in limbo

    Canada News CTV News
    A generous anniversary present turned into a headache for an Oshawa, Ont. couple after a brand new Visa gift card was abruptly declined at a local restaurant. Joe and Patty James celebrated 49 years of marriage at a party last weekend. Source