The FBI is taking the lead on bringing a "peaceful resolution" to the confrontation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

By Tim Nudd
Updated January 04, 2016 09:50 AM
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Credit: Rebecca Boone/AP

Multiple law enforcement agencies, led by the FBI, are working on plans for a resolution to a standoff in Oregon after armed militiamen took over a building at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge this weekend to protest the extension of prison terms for two ranchers convicted of setting fire to federal lands.

The FBI said in a statement Sunday that it is taking the lead to “bring a peaceful resolution to the situation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” reports NBC News. But the agency did not provide details of any plans.

“Due to safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved, we will not be releasing any specifics with regards to the law enforcement response,” the statement said.

The refuge headquarters were empty for the holiday weekend at the time of the takeover, reports The Oregonian.

Sheriff: ‘These Men Had Alternative Motives to Attempt to Overthrow the County and Federal Government’

The occupation has drawn national attention. Among the militiamen are Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff in Nevada with the U.S. government in 2014. Ammon Bundy said in several media interviews this weekend that the Oregon protesters want federal lands in Harney County returned to ranchers and loggers.

They have not made specific demands in that regard, but Bundy said they are set up for a lengthy occupation – “for years, absolutely,” he told The Oregonian. Bundy has also said the occupiers will be peaceful, unless provoked by law enforcement.

However, Harney County sheriff David M. Ward said Sunday in his own statement, obtained by PEOPLE, that the militiamen’s goals are much more sweeping and dangerous.

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward said.

Dwight and Steven Hammond Due to Report to Prison on Monday To Serve Four More Years

The seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge happened after some 300 marchers – both militia and local citizens – marched in nearby Burns, Oregon, on Saturday to protest the extension of prison terms for local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.

Dwight, 73, and his son Steven, 46, are due to report to prison Monday, reports USA Today, to serve four more years after a judge said the time they already served – three months for Dwight, one year for Steven – did not meet minimum-sentencing laws.

The ranchers, who were convicted of arson in 2012, have said they lit the fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their own property from wildfires. But they have distanced themselves from the actions by the militiamen this weekend.

“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family,” said a lawyer for the ranchers, W. Alan Schroeder, reports CBS News.

The situation in Burns is tense, reports The Oregonian, with residents concerned about the occupation. Schools in town were scheduled to reopen Monday after the holiday but will remain closed for the entire week.