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No-hurry defense: Refuge takeover requires delicate response

BURNS, Ore. (AP) — The armed activists who flocked to a remote wildlife refuge to take a stand against the federal government also looked prepared for a nippy day of hunting or fishing.

They were bundled in camouflage, plaid shirts, ear muffs and cowboy hats in the bleak, snow-covered high desert of eastern Oregon where they seemed more likely to encounter a bird or animal than a member of the public outside their own group or the throng of news media beyond the pickup trucks blocking the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

That may be one of the main reasons law enforcement hadn’t taken action Monday against the group numbering close to two dozen who were upset about 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. If there’s not an immediate threat to anyone’s life, why create a situation where there would be?”

Schools were closed for the week in Burns, about 30 miles north of the refuge, out of an abundance of caution, but no one had been hurt and no one was being held hostage on Monday.

The takeover puts federal officials in a delicate position of deciding whether to confront the occupiers, risking bloodshed, or stand back and possibly embolden others to directly confront the government.

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.

The armed group said it wants 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 group — led by two of the sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 Nevada standoff with the government over grazing rights — sent a demand for “redress for grievances” to local, state and federal officials.