BURNS, Ore. – Three Oregon sheriffs met Thursday with leaders of an armed group occupying a federal wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon and asked them to leave, after residents made it clear they wanted them to go home.
Harney County Sheriff David Ward, accompanied by two other sheriffs, asked Ammon Bundy and his group to respect the wishes of residents and end their occupation.
"I'm here to offer safe escort out," Ward told Bundy, according to The Oregonian. "Go back and kick it around with your folks."
"There are some positives than can come out of this," Ward said in the meeting, which occurred at the intersection of two remote roads.
Bundy told Ward he and his group were peaceful and were occupying the refuge because their complaints about federal land management policies have been ignored.
He and Ward agreed to talk again on Friday.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday called the occupation "unlawful" and said it had to end.
"It was instigated by outsiders whose tactics we Oregonians don't agree with. Those individuals illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge need to decamp immediately and be held accountable," she said.
On Wednesday night, residents attended a community meeting to air their views about the two dozen or so armed men holed up at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns.
Locals said they sympathized with the armed group's complaints about federal land management policies but disagreed with their tactics.
At that meeting, Ward said he hoped residents would put up a united front to peacefully resolve the conflict with the group.
"I'm here today to ask those folks to go home and let us get back to our lives," Ward said.
Schools were closed following the seizure of the refuge because of safety concerns in the small town in eastern Oregon's high desert.
Bundy's group, calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, says it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land. Participants came from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.
Bundy came to Burns to rally support for two local ranchers who were sentenced to prison on arson charges. The ranchers — Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond — distanced themselves from Bundy's group and reported to prison Monday.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago and served no more than a year. A judge later ruled that the terms fell short of minimum sentences requiring them to serve about four more years.