BURNS, Ore. – The leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge to protest federal land management policies said he and his followers are not ready to leave even though the sheriff and many locals say the group has overstayed its welcome.
On Friday, Ammon Bundy, leader of the group that on Jan. 2 seized the headquarters of the refuge in southeastern Oregon, said: "How long will this go on? We say to you, 'Not a minute too early.' "
Bundy met Thursday with Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who asked Bundy to heed the will of locals and leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Ward also offered to escort Bundy and his group out of the refuge to ensure safe passage.
"We will take that offer," Bundy said on Friday. "But not yet."
A few hours later, Ward said via Twitter that because of Bundy's stance he was calling off plans to have another meeting with him.
"During this morning's press conference, the people on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge made it clear that they have no intention of honoring the sheriff's request to leave. Because of that, there are no planned meetings or calls at this time," Ward said.
But Ward said he is "keeping all options open."
About the same time, members of another armed group known as the 3% of Idaho began arriving at the bird sanctuary, The Oregonian reported (http://goo.gl/mEMbqo ).
"They just keep an eye on everything that is going on to make sure nothing stupid happens," Bundy told The Oregonian on Friday afternoon outside refuge headquarters.
"If they weren't here," Bundy said, referring to the Idaho group, "I'd worry" about a Waco, Texas-style siege by federal officials in the early 1990s.
Spokesmen for the Idaho group said they are there to keep the situation peaceful and reassure the community that it isn't in danger.
Bundy's group — calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom — comes from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.
Bundy's protest at the refuge is a continuation of long-running arguments that federal policies for management of public lands in the West are harming ranchers and other locals. Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who in 2014 was at the center of a tense standoff with federal officials over grazing rights.
Ammon Bundy has been demanding that federal land in Oregon's Harney County be turned over to local residents to be managed.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday called the occupation of the wildlife refuge "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.
Federal, state and local law authorities have been closely monitoring the situation at the refuge but have so far taken no action against Bundy and his followers, apparently to avoid a confrontation. Ward has been the most visible law enforcement authority during the occupation, and his strategy so far has been to try to show Bundy that locals oppose the occupation and want them to leave.
Ward got a lot of support during a packed community meeting Wednesday night.
At that meeting, local residents said they sympathized with the armed group's complaints about federal land management but disagreed with their tactics and called Bundy and his followers to leave.
Bundy initially 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.