Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) took to the House floor Tuesday and delivered an impassioned speech about the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is within his district in Eastern Oregon. He expressed broader frustrations about how federal lands are managed in the American West.
Walden said that while he does not condone the takeover, he shares the occupiers' frustrations.
He called on Congress to "understand what drives people to do what's happening tonight in Harney County."
Walden spoke about the frustrations of ranchers and rural citizens in Oregon, pointing to what he sees as mismanagement of the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.
"I have seen what happens when overzealous bureaucrats and agencies go beyond the law and clamp down on people," said Walden.
Walden said he thinks the armed protesters at the refuge have gone too far.
"Now, I’m not condoning this takeover in anyway. I want to make that clear," he said. "I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
He said he'd rather the armed occupiers realize that they've made their case and go home. "But I understand and hear their anger," said Walden.
Walden also defended the Hammonds, the ranchers convicted of arson on federal rangelands, and said their punishment was too harsh.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were both convicted of arson for a 2001 fire that burned into the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. Prosecutors allege the Hammonds set that fire to conceal evidence of deer they had illegally slaughtered on federal land. The Hammonds said they had been burning to control invasive species, and the fire spread accidentally.
Dwight Hammond was also convicted for a 2006 "back-burn" fire that he set in an effort to protect the family's ranch from wildfire. That fire also spread onto federal land, and was reported by nearby firefighters.
"They're longtime responsible ranchers in Harney County," Walden said. He advocated for changes to the law under which the Hammonds were sentenced.
Walden also said people too often ridicule rural Americans, rather than try and understand their way of life.
"To my friends across Eastern Oregon, I will always fight for you," said Walden, choking up at the podium. "But we have to understand there's a time and a way.
"Hopefully the country, through this, understands we have a real problem in America: how we manage our lands and how we're losing them."