After 41 days, occupation at Oregon wildlife refuge comes to a close

A convoy of armored vehicles and SUVs rolls past a barricade on the road near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. The remnants of an armed group occupying the refuge to protest federal land policies say they won't leave until they get assurances they won't be arrested.(AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

BURNS, Ore. -- The four holdouts of the group that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge turned themselves in to federal agents on Thursday.

The tense negotiations unfolded over a nearly two-hour call live streamed online by an acquaintance of occupier David Fry, who was the final person to surrender to the FBI. Fry, Jeffrey Banta, and Sean and Sandy Anderson were taken into custody late this morning.

"We can all be grateful that today has ended peacefully, and that this situation is finally over, said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who represents Harney County. "Now, life in Harney County can begin to return to normal and the community can begin the long process of healing."

The four were the final holdouts of the armed militia led by Ammon Bundy that seized the refuge on Jan. 2, demanding the federal government turn over public lands to local control. | 4 holdouts at Oregon refuge have diverse backgrounds

The occupation started amid mounting tension over the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two ranchers convicted of setting fires on federal land to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. The father and son were ordered to return to jail when a federal judge found their initial terms were too short under U.S. law.

The Hammonds distanced themselves from the armed occupation, and local Harney County leaders, particularly Sheriff Dave Ward and Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, voiced strong opposition to the occupation.

Bundy and other group leaders were on their to a community meeting Jan. 26 north of the refuge when authorities set up a road block and arrested Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and others.

Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, the group's spokesman, was killed in a confrontation with the FBI and Oregon State Police on the remote road.

Bundy and others arrested in conjunction with the standoff face felony charges of conspiracy to impede federal officials in their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.

On Wednesday night, Ammon and Ryan Bundy's father, Cliven Bundy, was arrested and booked into jail after arriving at Portland International Airport.

Cliven Bundy was at the center of a standoff in Nevada with federal officials in 2014 over use of public lands.

As the occupation comes to a close, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Burns, and the surrounding Harney County community are left with the task of resuming a normal life.

In a statement, the Harney County officials said the continued militia presence would "only serve to further delay any meaningful work" on issues such as the management of federal land.

"Calls for thousands of people to descend on Burns are very troubling ... we are very grateful that the occupation ended peacefully and we look forward to the day when our community is ours, once again." (full statement below)

The Burns Paiute Tribe has concerns on whether there will be a lasting impact to the refuge, which holds sacred lands to the tribe. Tribal leaders have expressed fears some of the over 4,000 archaeological artifacts and maps stored at the refuge have gone missing, or that the group has disturbed burial grounds.

Many residents of the rural Oregon county have told KATU News they've long been tired of the occupation.

"I never knew this community could turn itself against each other like this... it's been stunning to witness," said longtime Burns resident Michelle Harris. "I've shed many tears over it."


Statement from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden:

"Oregonians across our state are grateful to the Harney County Sheriff's Department, federal law enforcement, and local and state officials for ending this standoff without additional loss of life. The steady resolve of the Burns community and Harney County leaders like County Judge Steve Grasty and Sheriff Dave Ward have kept this sad episode from sparking something much worse.

Now that the shadow of violence is lifting from Harney County, Oregonians can return to what we do best -- building common ground for real success on the challenges facing our state."


Full statement from Rep. Walden:

"We can all be grateful that today has ended peacefully, and that this situation is finally over. Now, life in Harney County can begin to return to normal and the community can begin the long process of healing. I will continue working to solve the underlying issues that have caused so much frustration in rural communities. We need meaningful changes to federal forest and land management policies, and we need to foster a more cooperative spirit between the federal agencies and the people who call areas like Harney County home."

Walden represents the people of Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes 20 counties in central, southern, and eastern Oregon (including Harney County).


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