Armed group digs in at Oregon reserve
OREGON, USA – A small group of armed activists remained holed up on Tuesday, January 5, at a remote US federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, vowing to leave only if asked by local residents.
Ammon Bundy, who has led the revolt at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since the weekend, said the siege would continue until the federal government abandons control of the reserve to local residents.
"It is our goal to get the logger back to logging, to get the rancher back to ranching, to get the miner back to mining, the farmer back to farming and to jump-start this economy in Harney County," he told reporters.
He said his group, which took over the refuge on Saturday, January 2, in protest at the jailing of two local ranchers convicted of arson, would hold its ground unless asked to leave by the local population
"There are a lot of good things that are happening," he said. "We have been very active in forwarding our plan, in assisting the people of Harney County in claiming and using their rights."
He said once the group's mission was accomplished, they would then go home.
He did not elaborate or specify whether any local residents had accepted the offer for land, or how his group would go about stripping the federal government of ownership.
On Monday, January 4, Harney County Sheriff David Ward called for the activists to pack up and leave town, as many locals denounced the group's tactics.
Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, the two ranchers who prompted the standoff and who have been sentenced to prison for setting fire to federal land, have also distanced themselves from the group.
"The Hammonds have turned themselves in. It is time for you to leave our community," Ward said, addressing Bundy and the rest of the group.
"Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully."
The occupation of the refuge reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where the federal government controls just over half of territory in 13 states.
In Oregon, nearly 53% of the land is federally owned and that has led to tensions with local communities over mining, ranching, grazing and logging rights.
While many disagree with the tactics used by the armed occupiers at the wildlife refuge, they say they illustrate mounting frustration over excessive federal government control over local communities.
They point, among other things, to mounting environmental regulations that have made it harder for locals to eke out a living from the land.
Bundy is the 40-year-old son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was at the center of a previous armed standoff with government authorities in 2014, that time over grazing rights on public lands. – Rappler.com