BURNS, Ore. (KOIN) — A group that calls itself the Harney County Committee of Safety held a packed community meeting in Burns Friday night and said that it’s thankful for the message of the militia that overtook the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but believes it’s time for them to go home.
The committee — not affiliated with the county in any official capacity — said returning the land to the people who live in the region would be a huge economic benefit. However, enough is enough.
Quoting a 6th Century Chinese philosopher, Tim K. Smith of the committee said, “A journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.”
The crowd filled the Senior Center in Burns to hear from the month-old committee with few goals.
One goal, Smith said, “was to show support for the Hammond family,” the Oregon ranchers now serving prison terms for setting fires on federal lands. “Two was to develop a plan to benefit the economic betterment of Harney County through land management.”
They want to see portions of federal land turned over to Harney County and its people. Smith said by switching hands, industries like timber and grazing could provide millions of dollars to the county.
“It would still be a government agency, but it’s here run by the people who are actually living here,” Smith said.
Many spoke in favor of that idea, such as rancher Erin Maupin.
“I think it’ll be better for the producers, the food consumers, the hunters, the environmentalists, the species that live on the land,” he said. “I think this would be a win for everybody.”
Rancher Rodney Johnson agreed. “I just want to see it keep going forward.”
Some people at this meeting believe the militia should stay, but the Harney County Committee of Safety as a whole delivered a note to group leader Ammon Bundy: Leave.
“We have to thank him for that, but we think now we’ve got it to the point where now it’s probably time for him to go home,” Smith said.
The committee said it has a lot of hurdles and challenges ahead and said it’s working with lawyers to lay the framework. The committee also asked those at the meeting to reach out to their elected officials.