BURNS, Ore. - The armed activists occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon said Tuesday they plan to hold a community meeting later this week to explain themselves and inform residents when they'll leave.
The Oregonian reports (http://bit.ly/1RK65f6 ) that a leader of the anti-government group, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, told reporters on Tuesday that the meeting will be held 7 p.m. Friday evening at an as-yet undetermined location in Burns, 30 miles north of the refuge.
On Monday, the leaders of the takeover cut fences -- at the request of a local rancher, they said -- as part of their plan to return the federal land back to the people of Harney County.
A backhoe with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emblem prominently on the side was brought in to help remove the barbed-wire fence and fence posts that mark the border between a section of the refuge and private land.
After much speculation, leader Ammon Bundy admitted to reporters, "We're going through the refuge files and permits, to expose many of the things that they've done here."
Bundy said they have not accessed the computers on the refuge but went through the file cabinets.
As potential federal charges stack up, there's no sign of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies staged at the nearby Burns Airport moving in, but some more foes of the Bundys' actions have made an appearance.
Folks like Garrett VeneKlasen of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, who said Monday, "I came here form New Mexico to tell all these people to get the hell off of my land."
Then there's Mark Heckert of Washington state, who had a cardboard sign reading: "Get the flock off my wildlife refuge."
"I never thought I'd say that, but I'm here to oppose the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge," Heckert said.
To Heckert, it's all a way to take away federal land belonging to the American people and sell it off to big corporations -- a "huge land and money grab."
Bundy told reporters that he and his followers are going through documents stored at the refuge to expose how the government has mistreated local ranchers who use federal land in the area, including Dwight and Steve Hammond, who returned to federal prison last week to serve out the rest of their 5-year prison term on arson convictions.
Bundy said his group is not accessing computers used by refuge employees, but do have access to government files and are looking through them, as well as using government vehicles on the site and posting a new sign over the wildlife refuge's sign, proclaiming it the "Harney County Resource Center."
Harney County schools reopened Monday for the first time since Bundy and his followers seized buildings at the refuge on Saturday, Jan. 2.
Authorities have not moved to force them out, or convinced them to leave voluntarily.
Meanwhile, Deschutes County to the west has sent two deputies and two correctional officers to Burns, helping in the situation.
And Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson was at Monday night's community meeting in support of counterpart Sheriff David Ward, who issued a statement late Monday saying law enforcement "will not be intimidated" and offering tips to residents on "prudent safety measures" to avoid trouble.
It's been a costly step-up in security and the like, according to Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, who put the cost at "$60,000 to $70,000 a day -- and we're gong to send Mr. Bundy the bill," he told the crowd of about 200.
And he had a plea for the locals, and probably others as well: "No matter how you feel, do not bring food and supplies up to the refuge."
Internet radio show host Pete Santilli was thrown out of the meeting, to the applause of many, after interrupting several times.
Ward had a more pointed version of a familiar message for the occupiers: "There's an hourglass, and it's running out. Go home."
State lawmakers also have gotten involved on the scene. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, spoke of the Hammonds' return to jail and said, "The problem is minimum sentencing."
And much like last week's meeting, comments of this kind were heard from residents: "We owe the Bundys a thank you, but it's time for them to go home now."
A Harney County teen got a standing ovation when she tearfully told the crowd, "I shouldn't have to be scared in my own hometown. I want them to go home, and I want this to feel like home again."