On Monday, the armed group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, hijacked a federal Wildcat excavator and ripped out an 80-foot section of fence separating the public birding refuge from a private cattle ranch. "I feel like this is the first step of many in restoring ranchers' rights," group leader Ammon Bundy told reporters and the two dozen or so people occupying the nature preserve with him. He said the tearing down of the barbed wire will allow cattle from the Puckett family ranch to graze in the refuge.
Ammon and the handful of militants took over the Malheur refuge and federal buildings inside it on Jan. 2. They say they won't leave until the federal government turns over control of public lands in the area to the county. Most county residents oppose the Ammon gang's armed occupation, and the county sheriff, David Ward, has asked them to leave. On Monday, Ward said that reports of vandalism, harassment, and intimidation have risen sharply in the area since the out-of-state protesters arrived.
Birders are especially angry about the occupation, and worried about destruction caused by moves like Monday's vandalism. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the reserve, isn't thrilled either. "This refuge belongs to the American public," said spokesman Jason Holm. "The steps they're taking — the occupation they're doing — actually robs the American public of experiencing one of the premier wildlife and birding refuges in the United States. It upsets us. But it should upset all Americans."
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