Leader of armed group wants land transfer, then will go home

A members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, walks to one of it's buldings Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and has sent a "demand for redress" to local, state and federal officials. Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)


BURNS, Ore. (AP) — A leader of the small armed group that has been occupying a remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon said Tuesday that they will go home when a plan to turn over management of federal lands to locals is implemented.

Ammon Bundy — one of the sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 Nevada standoff with the government over grazing rights — told reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that ranchers, loggers and farmers should have control of federal lands.

Bundy offered few specifics of the group’s plan, but LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona, said the group would examine the underlying land ownership transactions to begin to “unwind it.”

Finicum said he was eager to leave Oregon.

“I need to get home,” he said. “I’ve got cows that are scattered and lost.”

As of Tuesday morning, authorities had not shut off power to the refuge, Finicum said.

“If they cut it off, that would be such a crying shame, all the pipes would freeze.”

As the occupation entered its third day, Ammon Bundy said the group felt it had the support of the local community.

However, the county sheriff has told the roughly 20 people to go home and a community meeting was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

While the anti-government group is critical of federal stewardship of lands, environmentalists and others say officials should run the lands for the broadest possible benefit of business, recreation and the environment.

So far, law enforcement has not taken action against the group of about two dozen activists opposing the imprisonment of father-and-son ranchers who set fire to federal land.

“These guys are out in the middle of nowhere, and they haven’t threatened anybody that I know of,” said Jim Glennon, a longtime police commander who now owns the Illinois-based law enforcement training organization Calibre Press. “There’s no hurry.”

Some observers have complained, suggesting the government’s response would have been swifter and more severe had the occupants been Muslim or other minorities.

The activists seized the refuge about 300 miles from Portland on Saturday night as part of a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.

They said they want an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, reported back to prison Monday.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, one of which was set to cover up deer poaching, according to prosecutors. The men served no more than a year until an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.

Their sentences were a rallying cry for the group calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, whose mostly male members said they want federal lands turned over to local authorities so people can use them free of U.S. oversight.

The Hammonds have distanced themselves from the protest group. Many locals don’t want the activists here, fearing they may bring trouble.

Seeds of the dispute date back decades in the West, where the federal government owns about half of all land.

In the 1970s, Nevada and other states pushed for local control in what was known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. Supporters wanted more land for cattle grazing, mining and timber harvesting.

___

Johnson reported from Seattle. Associated Press Writer Brian Melley contributed from Los Angeles.

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