A standoff at a remote US wildlife centre in Oregon has rolled into a fourth day with self-styled militiamen vowing to press on with the protest against the US government even as local officials told the group to go home.
Saturday’s takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside the town of Burns, Oregon, was spurred by the imprisonment of two ranchers for setting fires that spread to federal land.
The occupation marked the latest protest over federal management of public land in the West, long seen by political conservatives in the region as an intrusion on individual freedom and property rights.
Protest leader Ammon Bundy, whose father’s ranch in Nevada was the scene of an armed standoff against federal land managers in 2014, said his group was defending the Constitution and personal liberty against the federal government.
The protesters say they aim to protect the rights of ranchers and start a national debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy that they hope will force the federal government to release tracts of Western land.
Many residents in Burns, a town of some 3000 people about 451km southeast of Portland, viewed the occupation as the work of outside agitators.
“It is time for you to leave our community, go home to your families, and end this peacefully,” Harney County Sheriff David Ward said.
The FBI said it was working with state and local law enforcement for a peaceful resolution.
The ranchers whose cause Bundy’s group has embraced – Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven – surrendered to federal authorities in California on Monday after being resentenced to longer prison terms for arson.