Time for Protesters to Go, Says Congressman Whose District Includes Occupied Refuge

Members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters stand guard Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Republican congressman whose district includes the occupied wildlife refuge protesters declared on Capitol Hill today that it’s time for the group to pack up and go home.

The Oregonian reported that Day 5 of the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is tense, with “fears of a police raid driving the occupiers into a frenzy.”

Sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and others traveled to the refuge and occupied the visitors center over the weekend. It was unoccupied at the time.

They’re protesting the federal prison sentences for Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, ranchers convicted of arson on federal land. The ranchers said it was a controlled burn while federal officials maintained it was arson meant to cover up poaching.

Ammon Bundy said they won’t leave until they converted the wildlife refuge, controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, into a private site.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) appeared with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) after a closed caucus meeting today to take questions about the standoff.

Walden represents the Harney County area, and said he was just on the phone with the county judge and was speaking with ranchers from the area late into the night.

“Americans have the right to protest; it should not take this form. And it is time for those who are there to depart. They’ve made their case. But it also brings up, I think, the issues that we deal with in the West,” Walden said.

“Harney County is larger than Maryland. There’s 7,000 people. It is 72 percent federal land. In 2012, there was a fire of a couple hundred thousand acres. The Hammonds set a backfire; they probably didn’t go about it properly. It burned 139 acres, they put it out. They’re now serving five years mandatory minimum of a sentence that the federal judge who sentenced them said would be unconscionable to levy,” the congressman continued.

“We need to change the federal law under which they were sentenced, we need to call on President Obama to not continue to declare monuments like he’s threatening in the nearby county for 2-and-a-half million acres, and they need to make sure that this unjust punishment on the Hammonds does not extend to the grandmother, Susie Hammonds, and her ranch and renew the grazing permits as opposed to destroy her way of life while her husband and son are in prison.”

Walden said Western lawmakers have tried to convey the issue to colleagues, “but unless you’ve been out there and understand, it’s hard to do.”

“And these are — the ranchers in this county I know well. I’ve known the Hammonds for 17, 18 years. These are people who care about America, who send their sons and daughters to fight our wars and die in higher proportion than the urban areas,” he said. “These people just want to take care of the environment, they really do. And it is the government that all too often ignores the law, as it has in this county repeatedly — and I can document that.”

“And somehow, we have to find a peaceful resolution here, and the takeaway has to be that there’s a problem in the West, across the whole Great Basin, that has to be dealt with responsibly. But an armed takeover is not the way to about it.”

The Bundy-led group has issued a call for well-wishers to bring them snacks.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals volunteered to bring them vegan jerky.

“People from all walks of life are increasingly appalled by the idea of slaughtering animals and realize, too, the harmful impact that animal agriculture has on the environment, so it’s time to face facts,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “These ranchers may have a beef with the feds, but their water use and the cattle’s production of methane mean that the world needs them to get out of the beef business.”