Armed protesters are occupying a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and asking militia members around the country to join them. The protesters went to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday following a peaceful rally in support of two Oregon ranchers facing additional prison time for arson.
- HOW DID THIS SITUATION BEGIN?
Tension has been building for weeks in the Burns, Oregon, area over the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond. Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. The two were convicted three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But in October, a federal judge in Oregon ruled their terms were too short under U.S. law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
- WHO IS LEADING THE PROTESTERS?
The Hammonds have received support from local residents, but the most vocal groups are from outside the area. Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights, is among those organizing the opposition at the wildlife refuge. Ammon Bundy and militiamen from other states arrived last month in Burns, some 60 miles from the Hammond ranch. Ammon Bundy has criticized the U.S. government for what he called a failed legal process.
- WHERE IS THE WILDLIFE REFUGE?
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is about 30 miles south of Burns in in the high desert of eastern Oregon. The area is very remote, about 280 miles southeast of Portland.
- OUTSIDERS NOT WELCOMED BY SOME IN OREGON
Many locals have told the outside groups to stay away, concerned their presence could lead to violence. The Hammonds, as well, have rebuffed the Bundy's support for their cause. "Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family," the Hammonds' lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward. Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Monday as ordered by the judge. "We gave our word that's what we would do, and we intend to act on it," he told The Associated Press last week.
- WHAT ARE AUTHORITIES DOING?
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has told people to stay away from the area as authorities work to defuse the situation. Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, told AP the agency was aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge but made no further comment.