A rancher from New Mexico signed a letter Saturday telling the federal government he will no longer honor his grazing contract.
Armed occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge had hoped more ranchers would step forward. But Adrian Sewell, who owns 160 acres in New Mexico, was the only one.
He bought his ranch four years ago for about $1 million. It included grazing privileges to 33,000 acres of public land.
Sewell said his grazing contract allows for 140 head of cattle, but the U.S. Forest Service is restricting him to 85.
“And they’re telling me that because there’s endangered species over in (a) certain pasture," Sewell said. "They won’t let me fix the fence, so they’re restricting me from what I already have in contract. They’re not even living up to their whole contract.”
This coming year, Sewell said he may put up to 200 cattle on the land.
The day also saw a dozen people rally a few miles down the road from the refuge, telling the occupiers to leave.
Long-distance hiker Candy Henderson of Walla Walla, Washington, said she’s waiting to heal after breast cancer treatment — so she came to protest the occupiers.
“I love the outdoors and this is our land it belongs to everybody in the United States and I’m afraid that bit-by-bit it’s being taken away from us," she said. "And it has to stop here. Because they’re not going to stop."
Henderson said they’re celebrating one of America's greatest ideas — its vast network of public lands that are open to all.