A building at the Harney County Fairgrounds was packed to the seams Wednesday night, as local residents discussed an ongoing occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Many of the speakers at the meeting said they didn't agree with the tactics of the armed men who took over the refuge Saturday, led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. But many of those same residents said they did agree with the message.
Ranchers and other longtime residents said they felt their concerns, including land use issues and employment after the decline of the timber industry in Oregon, haven't been talked about on a national scale until the armed men took over the federal building.
Still, a majority of speakers said they would like the refuge occupiers to leave. Early in the meeting, Harney County Sheriff David Ward asked for a straw poll of who would like the militants to peacefully return to their homes. Nearly every hand in the room shot up.
Multiple residents volunteered to travel with Ward to the refuge Thursday morning and ask the militants to go.
“Someone from Harney County, or a group of us, needs to tell them we recognize what you’ve done, but it’s time for you to go home to your families," said county resident Rob Frank.
Frank said he sympathizes with the group's anti-federalist views, but believes their tactics will fail to accomplish anything.
“They’re welcome to leave, and I’ll escort them out of the county,” said Ward, who added that he didn't want to see the situation end in bloodshed.
Earlier in the day, Bundy said he and the other people at the refuge did plan to leave eventually.
“There is a time to go home. We recognize that," he said. "We don’t feel it’s quite time yet."
Bundy said before the armed men would leave, he wanted to see two Harney County ranchers convicted of arson, Dwight and Steven Hammond, be released from the prison they reported to Monday.
"We feel like we need to make sure that the Hammonds are out of prison or well on their way," Bundy said. "We need to make sure that there is some teeth in these land transfers.”