Gunmen take Oregon wildlife refuge

  • 04/01/2016
Ammon Bundy (Reuters)
Ammon Bundy (Reuters)

A group of armed anti-government protesters have stormed a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon accusing the government of punishing ranchers who are being sent back to jail for arson.

The group, among them Ammon Bundy, the son of a well-known anti-government activist, took part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns after demonstrating in support of father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, CNN reports.

The pair had been sent to prison for five years having been accused of setting fire to 130 acres on federal land in 2001 to cover up poaching.

But in October, a federal judge ruled their sentences were too short and ordered them back to prison for four more years.

The ranchers claim they set the fires to prevent the growth of invasive plants and to protect their property from wildfires.

The Hammond's lawyer, however, made it clear in a statement the group did not speak for his clients who were planning on handing themselves in, Associated Press reports.

Despite this, Bundy told CNN he wanted the federal government to restore "the people's constitutional rights".

"This refuge - it has been destructive to the people of the county and to the people of the area," he said.

Having broken into an unoccupied building following a protest on Saturday (local time), the group says they refuse to leave and "will be here as long as it takes".

Bundy denied the group were terrorists or a militia, saying they were rather "concerned citizens" who would not use their weapons unless force is used against them.

While he did not specifically call for authorities to commute the Hammonds' prison sentences, Bundy cited it as an "abuse of power".

He said the refuge had taken over land the equivalent of "100 ranches" since the early 1900s.

"They are continuing to expand the refuge at the expense of the ranchers and miners."

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has warned people to stay away from the area, as authorities work to resolve the situation.

An FBI spokesperson said they were aware of the situation, but wouldn't comment further.

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