BURNS, Ore. (CN) - The citizens of Harney County expressed both support and the desire to kick out self-identified militia members led by the sons of rancher Cliven Bundy from the federal buildings they seized at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeastern Oregon.
Local ranchers Nolan and Charmaign Edwards showed up at the refuge headquarters on Wednesday afternoon. Charmaign was born and raised on the Colony ranch outside of nearby Fields, Oregon. Her parents bought it in 1956 and the couple took over operations in 1978.
The couple said they agreed with some of what Bundy has been saying, and wanted to find out more.
Nolan called the jailing of local ranchers, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, a "travesty." The pair reported to prison on Monday to serve the balance of their five-year sentences for starting two fires on their land. A federal judge had ignored a mandatory minimum-sentencing guideline - finding that it "shocked his conscience" - and instead handed three months to Dwight and one year to his son.
The government appealed, and an appeals court found that the minimums applied.
"Dwight's been hauling our cattle for 30 years," Nolan Edwards said. "He's always just been a really good neighbor to us. And this, all over a fire getting away, is just a little ridiculous."
Charmaign Edwards said the problem stems from an excess of power in the hands of the federal government.
"That's one thing where I agree with this occupation here - I'm not agreeing with the way they've done it, but they've brought it all out in the open and it needs to be discussed and it needs to be resolved and it needs to get back to the people so they have more voice in managing their ranches and their property," she said. "Because the next thing after that is gonna be our water. They're already after that too. You don't have no water, you can't live here."
Ammon Bundy told press the Hammonds' situation was "a constitutional crisis."
"Any time you have a family that has been abused the way the Hammonds and you have a community that has been abused the way they've been abused and ends up in prison, ends up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in their defense, they have to pay fines, they were forced to sign a right of first refusal over to the Bureau of Land Management on their ranch, and also they're under restrictions where they cannot purchase or sell anything over $500 without permission from the U.S. government - I would say yes, that is a constitutional crisis," Bundy said. "Absolutely. And the sheriff needs to be protecting those people, not collaborating. His oath of office is to protect the people from both foreign and domestic threats. Foreign and domestic. "
At least 50 reporters surrounded Bundy, snapping pictures and taking notes.
Harney County Sheriff David Ward held a meeting Wednesday evening, inviting residents to voice their opinions about the occupation. About 500 people packed a hangar at the county fairgrounds.
Ward opened the meeting by asking for a show of hands of those who wanted Bundy and his group to leave. Almost every hand shot up.