SALEM, Ore.—Oregon’s governor expressed anger Wednesday over federal authorities’ handling of the occupation of a national wildlife refuge by an armed group and said she intends to bill the U.S. government for what the occupation is costing state taxpayers.
Gov. Kate Brown said federal officials “must move quickly to end the occupation and hold all of the wrongdoers accountable.”
“The residents of Harney County have been overlooked and underserved by federal officials’ response thus far. I have conveyed these very grave concerns directly to our leaders at the highest levels of our government: the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House,” she said at a news conference.
Exasperated by a tense situation that has caused fear among local residents since it began Jan. 2, Brown said, “This spectacle of lawlessness must end, and until Harney County is free of it, I will not stop insisting that federal officials enforce the law.”
She said the occupation has cost Oregon taxpayers nearly half a million dollars. She didn’t say what those costs entailed.
“We’ll be asking federal officials to reimburse the state for these costs,” she said.
Federal authorities did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Brown had originally called the news conference to discuss her agenda for the upcoming legislative session, but she focused on the occupation by Ammon Bundy and his armed group of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeastern Oregon.
People living in the area strongly voiced their views at a community meeting Tuesday night in Burns, 30 miles north of the refuge. It was the most pointed demonstration yet of local residents’ desire that Bundy and his group go home.
Several people at the meeting spoke directly to Ammon Bundy, who showed up with his brother Ryan and other occupiers. One woman thanked him for drawing attention to ranchers’ complaints about management of federal lands but told him it’s time to go home.
“Ammon, you need to go home to your family, thank you,” said Jennifer Williams.
Also at the meeting was Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, who has been at the forefront of efforts among locals to show Bundy and his followers they are not welcome.
“Mr. Bundy walked in with his crowd,” Grasty told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They came into a school, packing their firearms, and strategically spread around the room.”
Grasty said Bundy—who is not from Oregon—should get the point that he and his followers need to go back to their home states and leave Harney County alone.
“It seems like he’s out of touch with reality,” Grasty told the AP from Burns.
Reached by the AP on Wednesday, Ryan Bundy said he did not have the impression from the Tuesday night meeting that most people wanted the occupation to end.
“There were a few dissenters, by far not the majority,” Bundy said.
Federal, state and local law enforcement officers have been sent to the area but so far have avoided doing anything that might provoke a confrontation. One occupier was arrested for unauthorized use of a vehicle after driving a vehicle owned by the refuge into Burns, and a Montana man who was stopped by Oregon State Police last week for a lighting violation was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Grasty would like law enforcement to turn up the heat on Bundy and his fellow occupiers—perhaps isolate them by closing off roads leading to the refuge.
“I hope they lock it down. People shouldn’t be coming and going. Maybe it’s time,” he said.
Bundy initially took over the refuge to protest prison terms for two local ranchers convicted of setting fires on federal lands. After the ranchers voluntarily reported to prison, Bundy has justified the occupation by saying he wants federal lands in Harney County turned over to local residents, among other demands. He has also said he is obeying a divine command.