Oregon standoff leader warns feds: Back off – OregonLive.com
BURNS – Ammon Bundy on Tuesday cautioned federal employees not to interfere with local ranchers and miners who defy government regulations as he stepped toward increased militancy on Day 18 of his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The armed protesters are clearing the way for Harney County residents to again ranch, mine and log on land now controlled by federal managers, Bundy said.
The occupation leader addressed “range cons” – federal range conservationists who work with ranchers on grazing schedules and rotations to minimize the ecological impact of cattle. He also cited their employer, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the bird sanctuary.
Federal agents shouldn’t try to intimidate those who assert their rights, Bundy said in a news conference at the entrance to the refuge headquarters, 30 miles southeast of Burns.
“We give warning they are not to do that,” Bundy said.
Bundy issued the warning in his trademark even-tempered manner. But the folksiness couldn’t disguise that the out-of-town occupiers are shifting away from their carefully cultivated image as peace lovers who are here to help struggling residents.
Bundy repeated a promise that he and others made in a community meeting the night before in the tiny town of Crane. The militants will back up their warning with rapid response teams ready to rush to the defense of anyone “abused” by a federal agency, he said.
“We’ll protect them,” he said.
Bundy also made clear his group, which calls itself Citizens For Constitutional Freedom, isn’t leaving anytime soon.
Since the occupation started Jan. 2, the protesters have provided shifting accounts of what they want and when they would leave. Two weeks ago, some said the group would leave if Harney County residents said they should. Two widely attended community meetings gave them their answer: Go. The militants packed not a single bag.
Last week, the group’s leaders indicated that they would divulge their “exit” plan at their own community meeting in Burns. That got delayed when county officials refused to let them use any public buildings, forcing the detour to Crane on Monday that drew a crowd of about 30. By contrast, meetings in Burns have drawn up to 400.
Yet in Crane, Bundy and other leaders of the occupation never spoke of plans to leave the refuge.
The protesters have been steadfast in claiming that their main goal is to return federal land in Harney County to local ownership, either to private parties or to county government.
The refuge has remained closed since Bundy and a group of about 20 others took over the refuge headquarters. The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Services offices also remain closed in the Burns area.
On Tuesday, Bundy offered a more expansive agenda that reaches out to the logging industry. He said federal forests in the county hold a seven- to 10-year supply of downed timber that would be used to reopen the local sawmill.
He said the occupiers would help with projects to clean up the forest and use wood debris to generate power locally and energize Harney County.
“It will take some time to accomplish,” he said.
Bundy, the son of controversial Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, put out a call for fresh recruits to join the effort if they could provide skills to make the ideas move ahead.
The father has long claimed the federal government has no jurisdiction in Nevada and can’t control his grazing. The federal land bureau is trying to collect unpaid grazing fees dating back 20 years and totaling more than $1 million.
In other comments Tuesday, Ammon Bundy said:
— The group has met several times with Susan Hammond, wife of imprisoned rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. Bundy said his group has been providing help as requested by her, but he declined to provide details to protect her privacy.
— The group has reached out to the Burns Paiute Tribe to hear their claims and concerns. The wildlife refuge is part of the ancestral grounds of the tribe, containing burial grounds and traditional hunting and fishing territory.
— Protesters met recently with some Utah public officials who support what Bundy and his group are doing. Bundy claimed his group is getting “a lot of political support” and that people with “deep pockets” are ready to back their Harney County initiatives. He provided no specifics.
About an hour later and eight miles down the road, another protest took place by citizens outraged by the occupation.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, assembled a half-dozen protesters overnight as a counterweight to the attention Bundy and his group gets with its daily news conferences.
They gathered on a highway pullout that features fading government displays that explain some of the refuge history and what was once a small town at the site – The Narrows.
Suckling and his protesters brought their own signs: “Bundys Buffoons Get Out” and “Armed Takeover is UnAmerican” among them.
“They are spurring a revolution but not the revolution they wanted,” Suckling said.
He expects those who are passionate about public lands from across the country will step up to oppose the occupation in Oregon, he said.
Suckling said he got the idea for the counter-protest after confronting the militants Monday at their own news conference. When he got back to Burns later, he found 200 emails, including questions: “Is it safe?” “Can we come?”
If he had more time, he estimated he could draw 500 to 1,000 people.
“The Malheur does not belong to the Bundys,” he said.
Bundy’s followers make up the “radical spearhead” of a political movement backed by powerful corporate interests trying to access public lands, he said. Congressional legislation toward that end “is the biggest threat here,” he said.