A group led by Ammon Bundy, 43, took over a federal wildlife refuge in Burns, Oregon on January 3, 2016 to protest against the federal government’s treatment of ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond in 2001.
Hammond and his son lit fires on federal land to reduce the growth of plants and protect their property from wildfires. They received one year of jail time, and when that was up, a federal judge ruled that the sentences they had served for arson were not long enough under federal law.
They were then sentenced to four more years in prison, which Bundy’s group found unfair and led them to partake in a standoff. The protesters in Oregon say ranchers and others should be free to use the federal lands in question without federal oversight.
No federal wildlife employees were in danger when the group took over the refuge; however, the local school district shut down since it could not guarantee the safety of children traveling to and from school.
The protesters have said they aspire “to restore and defend the Constitution” to protect the rights of ranchers and ignite a national debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy. Their goal is to ultimately force the federal government to release tracts of Western land.
“…[P]eople should have a say in how their land is distributed. The government has policies and procedures that they have to follow, but I don’t think they are making the people their number one priority like they should. If a group of people care about the animals, they should take care of it rather than the government,” says sophomore Giadanna Giglio.
Bundy is the eldest of 14 children in Bunkerville, Nevada. The family’s $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties to the Bureau of Land Management made them iconic in the country’s swiftly growing patriot movement. Their mindset was that they were not slaves of the government and that the government is not the master of their property.
He had also been resisting government incursions for about six years before he and his group took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns.
Previously, he rejected the authority of animal control officers to claim his roaming horse, fought school officials for stopping his 15-year-old daughter from carrying a pocketknife, and resisted city officials to regulate his fires, his property’s appearance and his driving, according to court records and news reports.
Despite his past interferences with the government, Bundy declined to discuss past criminal charges. He said he wanted attention to instead be paid to his current mission – returning the National Wildlife Refuge to those he says are the land’s rightful owners, the residents of Harney County.
“His reasoning to invade the area is not justifiable because the wildlife in there will not have a place to stay. Many animals already live in bad conditions, so this will only make it worse,” says sophomore Aisha Malik.
Can you justify Bundy’s actions against the National Wildlife Refuge?