The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural, eastern Oregon, is closed until further notice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says, amid an occupation of the federally owned land by armed militia members.
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The refuge is remote; located 30 miles outside the nearest town of Diamond, Oregon.
The militia members set up a roadblock there this weekend and two armed members manned a guard tower that is usually used to spot wildfires. But there was no sign of law enforcement in the area, and local police said they had no intention of going to the scene, not even to keep watch on the militia.
The protest began Saturday as a rally in support of two local ranchers who are to report to prison today for arson. The two men were convicted of setting fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After the rally Saturday, armed militia initiated the occupation of the headquarters of the wildlife refuge.
Here's a closer look inside the remote property:
The History of the Land
The refuge, established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, was created as a breeding ground for native birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the property.
It encompasses 187,757 acres of wildlife habitat, the agency says.
"The Refuge constitutes a small percentage of the Northern Great Basin’s total acreage but is a tremendously important source of wildlife habitat relative to other portions of the Northern Great Basin," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website. "The Refuge represents a crucial stop along the Pacific Flyway and offers resting, breeding, and nesting habitat for hundreds of migratory birds and other wildlife.
"Many of the species migrating through or breeding here are highlighted as priority species in national bird conservation plans," the website says.
Why Militia Are Occupying the Land
The group wants to assert that the federal government does not have the right to own or control land inside the state, said one of the occupiers, Ammon Bundy.
Bundy claimed the federally owned wildlife refuge belongs to the people, and that the group is "making a hard stand against ... overreach."
Bundy said the government's "taking of people's land and resources" is leaving people in poverty, adding that the wildlife refuge "has been a tool in doing that."
He said the group's goal is to help local workers, including ranchers, miners and hunters, benefit from the land.
What's Next for the Refuge?
When the armed militia members -- who say their protest is not aggressive -- began to occupy the snow-covered land, the refuge was already closed for the holiday weekend. And now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website says the refuge will now remain closed until further notice.
"While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety and we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident. We will continue to monitor the situation for additional developments,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told ABC News Sunday.
The FBI has taken the lead in monitoring the standoff. The FBI is "working with the Harney County Sheriff's Office, Oregon State Police and other local and state law enforcement agencies to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation,” the agency said in a statement.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama is aware of the standoff, but said it is a “local law enforcement matter” despite the fact that it involves federal land.
“This ultimately is a local law enforcement matter. The FBI is monitoring the situation and offering support to the local law enforcement officials as they try to deal with that,” Earnest said in today’s White House briefing.
“We’re hopeful that that situation can be resolved peacefully without any violence,” he said. Earnest also added they are concerned about the safety of the federal personnel working in the facility, but said they have no knowledge that “federal employees are at risk or in danger right now.”
Local Harney County Sheriff David Ward said this weekend, "We are currently working jointly with several organizations to make sure the citizens of Harney County are safe and this issue is resolved as quickly and peaceful as possible," adding that no other areas in Harney County are in "immediate danger."
"We ask that people stay away from the refuge for their safety," Ward said. "We also ask that if anyone sees any of these individuals in the area to please contact law enforcement and do not confront the individuals themselves."
Harney County School District No. 3 schools will be closed this week, Superintendent Dr. Marilyn L. McBride told ABC News Sunday.
"Ensuring staff and student safety is our greatest concern," McBride said.