Ranchers report to prison as armed group occupies Oregon wildlife refuge

BURNS, Ore. -- Father-and-son ranchers convicted of setting fire to federal grazing land reported to prison Monday as the armed anti-government activists who have taken up their cause maintained the occupation of a remote Oregon wildlife preserve.

See Full Article

Federal authorities made no immediate attempt to retake the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the remote high desert of eastern Oregon, which about two dozen activists seized over the weekend as part of a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.

There appeared to be no urgent reason for federal officials to move in. No one has been hurt. No one is being held hostage. And the refuge is a bleak and forbidding stretch of wilderness about 300 miles from Portland, and it's the middle of winter.

Some have complained that the government's response to the situation in Oregon would have been more severe had the occupants been Muslim or other minorities.

But others said from a tactical standpoint, the government's cautious response would make sense no matter who was holed up in the government building in the reserve.

Meanwhile, the armed group said it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after the father and son were ordered back to prison for arson on federal grazing lands.

The group calling itself Citizens for constitutional Freedom demanded a government response within five days related to the ranchers' extended sentences.

Ammon Bundy -- one of the sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 Nevada standoff with the government over grazing rights -- told reporters that Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, were treated unfairly.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, one of which was set to cover up deer poaching, according to prosecutors. They said they lit the fires to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.

The men served their original sentences -- three months for Dwight and one year for Steven. But an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.

Their sentences have been a rallying cry for the group, whose mostly male members said they want federal lands turned over to local authorities so people can use them free of U.S. oversight.

The father and son reported to a federal prison Monday in California, said Harney County, Oregon, Sheriff David Ward. He provided no other details.

The Hammonds have distanced themselves from the protest group and many locals, including people who want to see federal lands made more accessible, don't want the activists here, fearing they may bring trouble.

Schools in the small town of Burns, about 30 miles from the refuge, were closed for the week out of concern for student safety.

For the moment, the federal government was doing nothing to remove them, but the FBI said it was monitoring the situation. The White House said President Barack Obama was aware of the situation and hopes it can be resolved peacefully.

The refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect bird populations that had been decimated by plume hunters selling feathers for the hat industry.

It sits in a wide snow-covered valley rimmed by distant mountains and contains lakes and marshland. The preserve has grown over the years to about 300 square miles and surrounds the ranch Dwight Hammond bought with his father in 1964. Dwight Hammond said his family has resisted pressure to sell the ranch as the federal government chipped away at his grazing allotments and increased fees on other lands.

The refuge contains about 10 small buildings, some of which had been entered by the occupying group. Other members of the group blocked the entrance to the headquarters.

The takeover prompted an outcry far beyond Oregon from both those who want to see federal lands opened to more ranching and logging and others who were astounded that private citizens with guns could seize government property without any intervention by law enforcement.

The tactics of the group were condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who is familiar with the Bundys from their standoff in his state, said the group could not continue breaking the law, but that everyone should remain patient.

"These people say we want to return (the land) to the people," Reid said. "The people have it right now."

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he hoped the group would "stand down peaceably" with no violent confrontation "sooner rather than later."

Ammon Bundy said his group had sent a demand for "redress for grievances" to local, state and federal officials. The group, which included a couple of women and some boys and girls Monday, did not release a copy of its demands. Bundy would not say what the group would do if it got no response.

"We have exhausted all prudent measures and have been ignored," he said.

The dispute harkens back to a long-running struggle over public lands between some Westerners and the federal government, which owns nearly half the land in the West.

In the 1970s, during the "Sagebrush Rebellion," Nevada and other states pushed for local control over federal land. Supporters of that idea want to open more land available for cattle grazing, mining and timber harvesting.

Opponents say the federal government should administer lands for the widest possible uses, including environmental and recreational.

Bundy said the group plans to stay at the refuge as long as it takes.

Keith Landon, a longtime resident of Burns who works at the Reid Country Store, said he sympathizes with the Bundys' frustrations. Landon was a logger until the federal government declared the spotted owl a protected species in the 1980s -- a decision that hurt the local logging industry.

"It's hard to discredit what they're trying to do out there," he said. "But I don't want anybody hurt."


Melley reported from Los Angeles.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Female pastor, 3 others guilty in church torture with electrical cord that killed teen

    World News Toronto Sun
    UTICA, N.Y. — The pastor of a small church where two brothers were beaten for hours during a counselling session that she called pleaded guilty on Friday to manslaughter and assault. Three other church members admitted to less serious charges for their roles in the all-night beatings that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and injured Christopher Leonard, 17, last October. Source
  • Photo of blood-covered Syrian boy fake: Assad

    World News Toronto Sun
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Swiss media the photo of a young boy covered in blood sitting by himself in an ambulance that went viral this summer was a fake. The leader was asked about the photo during an interview in which he said fighting “terrorists” in Aleppo was the only way of “protecting civilians. Source
  • Police mistake doughnut glaze for meth, Florida man sues over arrest

    World News CTV News
    ORLANDO, Fla. -- A Florida man arrested last year after police mistook doughnut glaze in his car for meth is suing the city of Orlando and a drug-testing kit company. The Orlando Sentinel reports Daniel Rushing filed a lawsuit last week, claiming negligence by the city and the kit's manufacturer. Source
  • Author of retracted rape story defends relying on 'Jackie'

    World News CTV News
    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The author of the discredited Rolling Stone magazine article about a woman's claim of being gang raped at a fraternity house sought to show jurors Friday why she found the woman so credible, highlighting the emotion and level of detail with which she spoke during their interactions. Source
  • ISIS fighter jumps for joy after learning he will be killed in bomb plot

    World News Toronto Sun
    Most people wouldn’t be pleased if they drew the short straw to blow themselves to smithereens. But one ISIS jihadi couldn’t contain his glee when he won the one-way ticket to martyrdom via a bomb-packed “suicide truck” Source
  • Woman allegedly smears cars with peanut butter to protest Trump

    World News Toronto Sun
    If you’re going to be a peanut-butter-smearing wacko, at least you can be a choosy mother. Cops say Christina Ferguson — who was allegedly hammered — took a “family-size jar of low-sodium, creamy natural Jif” and smeared it on more than 30 vehicles outside a Wisconsin building, apparently to take a stand against those attending a Donald Trump rally. Source
  • Clinton ramps up pressure, Trump vows to go all out

    World News CBC News
    Hillary Clinton ramped up her pressure on Donald Trump in the election's most competitive states Friday with an emotional TV ad targeting his criticism of a Muslim-American family. Trump vowed to go all out in the final three weeks so he'll have no regrets — even if he loses. Source
  • Stunning drone footage reveals bowhead whales feeding, swimming patterns

    Canada News CBC News
    Bowhead whales like their afternoon siestas. That's what UBC's Sarah Fortune realized after she and her fellow researchers gathered and analyzed stunning drone footage of the mammals in the eastern Canadian Arctic. "The team was able to watch the whales and found that they spent the early morning feeding in deep water and then rested in shallow, coastal waters during the afternoon," Fortune said. Source
  • Jets, Oilers alumni delight fans ahead of Heritage Classic

    Canada News CBC News
    Hockey fans at the MTS Center in Winnipeg were in for a treat Friday as the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers alumni teams held open practice before Saturday's Heritage Classic game at Investors Group Field. Source
  • Justin Ross Harris, whose son died in hot car, sought naked selfies from teen, sent her penis pics, she testifies

    World News Toronto Sun
    BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A Georgia man swapped sexual text messages with a teenage girl while his toddler son sat dying in the back seat of the father’s sweltering SUV, his young texting partner testified in court Friday. Source