As eastern Oregon standoff goes on, residents aim for calm

FILE PHOTO - Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Bundy is the leader of a small, armed group that has been occupying the remote refuge in Oregon since Jan. 2 to protest federal land policies. Burns, Ore., Jan. 14, 2016 | AP Photo by Keith Ridler, St. George News

BURNS, Ore. (AP) — Cement barriers block off streets around the county courthouse in the small eastern Oregon town of Burns where police from around the state have set up a command center in response to a standoff at a nearby wildlife refuge.

In this file photo, Members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters stand guard outside. Thousands of archaeological artifacts and maps detailing where more can be found are stored at a national wildlife refuge currently being held by a group of armed protesters, Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
In this file photo, Members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters stand guard outside. Thousands of archaeological artifacts and maps detailing where more can be found are stored at the national wildlife refuge currently being held by a group of armed protesters, Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

About 30 miles to the south, an armed group protesting federal land use policy has taken over a national wildlife refuge. Men carrying what appear to be military-style rifles scan the snow-covered rangeland from atop an old fire lookout that gives them a sweeping view of roads leading in.

As the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hits the two-week mark, people in this high desert area are growing increasingly weary and wary.

“If we all keep a calm about us everything will be OK,” said Brenda Pointere, who was coming out of a Burns restaurant. “It started out calm, but the longer it goes on — you start to hear rumors.”

It started Jan. 2 as a protest about two area ranchers convicted of arson who were returned to prison to serve longer sentences. Afterward, a group led by Ammon Bundy traveled to occupy the refuge to protest the ranchers return to prison and demand that the 300-square-mile refuge be turned over to local control.

Bundy said he understood the frustration of Harney County residents with the federal government having spent several months in the community earlier.

“They have been suppressed to the point where they’re ready to act,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday inside one of the heated wildlife refuge buildings while his brother, Ryan, and two women sat nearby.

Burns, nearby Hines and the local area have been in an economic tailspin for decades, the biggest blow coming from the loss of a lumber mill with some blaming federal restrictions on timber harvest. Restrictions on other federal lands are a common theme of frustration. The wildlife refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has some good ranchland that Ryan Bundy says will be filled with cattle this spring, though he declined to give details.

“I think the mass of the community, especially the rural community, are 100 percent in favor of what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Ryan Bundy said. But, he noted, “There’s a split camp, so to speak.”

The Bundys had planned a meeting with community members Friday night, but that is in limbo after county officials said they couldn’t use the local fairground.

Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a spokesman for the group, told reporters Friday they were still hopeful the meeting might occur next week, perhaps Monday, if they can find a location. He criticized local officials for “making sure we have no access to facilities to talk to the residents.”

The group has said they won’t leave until the ranchers jailed for arson are freed and the refuge is turned over to local control. So far authorities have made no move to remove the group from the refuge.

Locals who agreed to be interviewed were themselves conflicted, expressing anger toward federal land policies but bothered by the armed takeover.

“I don’t agree with anything they’re doing right now,” said Ben McCanna about the occupiers at the refuge, about 4 miles from where he lives. But McCanna, 54, also said the ranchers’ return to prison was wrong, and that he was irked that the U.S. Forest Service closed off access to one of his favorite camping spots in the nearby Malheur National Forest.

But if the wildlife refuge falls out of federal control, he said he expected no trespassing signs to go up.

The issue of land management is one discussed throughout the West. A group of mostly Republican congressmen is holding meetings in southern Utah next week to hear concerns from local officials who worry a Bureau of Land Management proposal unfairly restricts livestock grazing, motorized recreation. Officials in southern Utah’s Washington County said the plan violates terms negotiated under a 2009 law that established two conservation areas.

The BLM plan is intended to restore native habitat for protected Mojave Desert Tortoise, but local officials say it unfairly hurts ranchers and could harm the local economy.

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican who represents the area, requested that a House subcommittee on federal lands hold the hearing in St. George on Jan. 22 to hear local grievances about the plan.

In Oregon, Cheryl Drinkwater lives on a ranch near the refuge and said she has adult children working for the Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management. She said local federal officials are fine, but edicts from Washington D.C. cause problems. Her view of the current conflict is that the people with the most common sense are the least likely to make themselves heard.

“Hope I don’t get in trouble over that,” she said, describing the atmosphere in the town as tense.

Meanwhile, the influx of law enforcement officials, reporters, politicians and the curious has caused something of an economic boom in January, typically a slow month for the area.

Cherrie Glick, a waitress at the Apple Peddler, said that in the last several weeks she’s earned a couple hundred dollars more in tips, plus been called in to work more hours, as have other employees.

“Everybody who has come in has been nice to us,” she said, noting she wasn’t allowed to talk about the wildlife refuge.

Meanwhile, nobody is too sure how it will end.

“I hope it’s peaceful,” Kathy Warburton of Burns said.

Written by Keith Ridler, Associated Press. Associated Press writer Michelle Price contributed from Salt Lake City.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGNews


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  • anybody home January 15, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    First arrest made today with more to come. Stupidity will take the Bundy thugs down. Bundy’s bodyguard also arrested in AZ for an outstanding warrant. These guys are just princes.

  • delong January 15, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Looks like two of these clowns were finally arrested today. Hopefully this ends soon so Bryan Hyde can stop worrying about his beloved, anti-government heroes that are giving all ranchers a bad name. The fact these “do what I want” freeloaders don’t aknowledge the federal agencies authority over public lands will surely end with prison sentences. Good luck boys, you’re going to need it! PS Cliven, we the tax payers still want our $1 million is unpaid grazing fees from the past 20 years. It would also be nice to see some arrests for pointing rifles at law enforcement 1.5 years ago. What a joke!

  • Terry January 16, 2016 at 5:07 am

    RKrisAnne Hall, a constitutional attorney, discusses what’s going on in Oregon and she is ON POINT!!

  • Terry January 16, 2016 at 5:10 am

    KrisAnne Hall, a constitutional attorney, discusses what’s going on in Oregon and she is ON POINT!!
    Google Her

    • Rainbow Dash January 16, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      I have to laugh at these females like Mia Love who advocate for a “return to the constitution” (as written by the founding fathers) because if we did that Ms. Love would be a cotton pickin’ slave and Ms. Hall would not be able to be an attorney, or own property, or vote, or hold public office and lots of other things women have fought and died for over the last few centuries.

      • .... January 16, 2016 at 6:09 pm

        Yeah but if Mia Love gets shot by a white guy then they will name a street after her. and she will have her own holiday . I’m sure Al Sharpton would show up for that.

      • Chris January 16, 2016 at 7:03 pm

        She is also a hypocrite who lives off federal government handouts while expressing her disdain for that same governments.

    • Chris January 16, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      If you do some research, you will find that Kris Anne Hall has very dubious credentials for a “constitutional attorney” and that her views on this matter are equally dubious. In essence, she is a crackpot who got fired from her job for her ridiculous beliefs.

  • .... January 16, 2016 at 9:38 am

    These people are nothing but leftover gay pride parade marchers

    • 42214 January 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      That’s giving gay pride marchers a bad name. I think they’re inbred kin of Native Born.

      • .... January 17, 2016 at 12:58 am

        Well they were marching in the parades on behalf of their horses

    • Chris January 16, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      yes, or maybe NAMBLA marchers. Bundys and Finicum are just inbred polygs.

  • tcrider January 17, 2016 at 11:55 am

    We need to bring in the Utah firing squad and let them get some target practice in.
    these white scum need to be eradicated,
    Bundy, is following his freeloading fathers footsteps by not paying taxes, they are a lookin for the welfare.

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