BURNS, Ore. — The leader of a small, armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon said Monday he and his followers are going through government documents stored inside refuge buildings.
Ammon Bundy told reporters the documents will be used to “expose” how the government has discriminated against local ranchers who use federal land for cattle grazing.
Bundy said the documents would also help secure the release of Steven and Dwight Hammond, two local ranchers convicted of arson who returned to prison last week to serve longer sentences. The Hammonds’ case set off the occupation of the Burns-area refuge on Jan. 2.
Bundy said his group is not accessing government computers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, including personnel files.
After the news conference, the group drove in a convoy to a ranch near the refuge and tore down a stretch of government-erected fence. The goal, according to the armed men, was to give the rancher access to the range that had been blocked for years. It’s not clear where the fence was located or which rancher sought the group’s help.
The refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Spokesman Jason Holm said because the documents and files at the refuge may have personally identifiable information, the agency “is taking necessary steps to ensure employee and family safety.”
The agency strongly condemned the destruction of the fence and said the action undermines hard-earned conservation gains in the area.
In Burns, about 30 miles from the refuge, schools reopened Monday after being canceled for a week over safety concerns linked to the refuge standoff.
Government offices in the area remained closed, including those of the Bureau of Land Management. Bureau spokesman Randy Eardley said about 60 employees were working from home.
“There is a very clear threat to BLM employees,” Eardley said.