BURNS, Ore. (AP) — Three Oregon sheriffs met with leaders of an armed group to try to persuade them to end their occupation of a federal wildlife refuge after many local residents made it plain that’s what they want.
But it was unclear whether the meeting Thursday at a snowy intersection in southeastern Oregon would lead to an end of the occupation by Ammon Bundy’s group any time soon.
“There are some positives that could come out of this,” Harney County Sheriff David Ward, accompanied by colleagues from two other counties, told Bundy and his group.
“Before this thing turns into something negative, which would ruin all of that, I think we need to find a peaceful resolution to help you guys get out of here,” Ward said.
Bundy said his group poses a threat to no one. He also said his demands that federal land in Harney County be turned over to local residents to manage are being ignored.
“I didn’t come to argue,” Ward said. Bundy said neither had he.
Ward offered to escort Bundy and his followers out of the refuge, which Bundy scoffed at.
“I’m not afraid to go out of the state,” Bundy told reporters after the meeting. “I don’t need an escort.”
Ward said he plans to talk with Bundy again on Friday.
The encounter came as pressure mounts on Bundy to end the occupation of headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, south of Burns.
Bundy’s demands are a continuation of long-running arguments that federal policies for management of public lands in the West are harming ranchers and other locals. Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who in 2014 was at the center of a tense standoff with federal officials over grazing rights.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday called the occupation of the wildlife refuge “unlawful” and said it had to end.
“It was instigated by outsiders whose tactics we Oregonians don’t agree with. Those individuals illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge need to decamp immediately and be held accountable,” she said.
Bundy’s group — calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom — comes from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.
Sheriff Ward has repeatedly said the occupation has to end and violence be avoided. He got a lot of support during a packed community meeting Wednesday night.
At that meeting, local residents said they sympathized with the armed group’s complaints about federal land management but disagreed with their tactics and called on Ammon Bundy and his followers to leave.
Bundy came to Burns to rally support for two local ranchers who were sentenced to prison on arson charges. The ranchers — Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond — distanced themselves from Bundy’s group and reported to prison Monday.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago and served no more than a year. A judge later ruled that the terms fell short of minmum sentences requiring them to serve about four more years.
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