By Brad Mosher
Tillamook County Sheriff Andy Long and a deputy found themselves involved in a national news event after they responded to a request for assistance from the new sheriff of Harney County.
Although the largest of Oregon’s counties, Sheriff David Ward only has a population of approximately 7,700 in Harney County and a total of five deputies to cover it.
But the problems were caused in early January when several dozen people decided to take over the federal wildlife refuge located 30 miles from the city of Burns.
The refuge was created in 1908 with a proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt. It currently covers 187,757 acres.
The federal buildings at the refuge were seized Jan. 2 by a group of armed protestors claiming they were doing it to protest the imprisonment of two local ranchers after they were found guilty of arson on federal property. The fires were started in 2001 and 2006 and they had no authorization from the government.
The convictions had a mandatory five year sentence, but a judge declined to follow the federal mandatory requirements. That prompted the government to appeal the sentences that had been handed out. The government won the appeal and the father and son were required to turn themselves in to complete the new sentences at a federal facility in California.
The ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, have publicly disavowed the efforts of the armed protestors and even asked them to stop and leave the refuge and county without any further incidents.
However, the armed protestors have claimed they will continue to stay until the government totally surrenders its property rights to to the refuge, claiming several times publicly that it was unconstitutional.
However, after that argument was publicized, it was disclosed that the government had twice won in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court involving property rights at the refuge.
Ammon Bundy, one of the leaders of the group which took over the federal property, has said they will stay at the refuge even though they face heavy local criticism from residents. Bundy became famous with his father, Cliven Bundy, over an armed standoff in Nevada with people aiming loaded weapons at law enforcement personnel. The Bundy family owed more than $1 million in grazing fees. Several people involved in the standoff in Nevada were later tied to a double homicide in Las Vegas where two police officers were killed while eating in a restaurant. Afterwards the husband and wife shooters draped a Gadsen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag over the bodies.
After that shooting, Bundy’s son, who is leading the Oregon standoff, publicly announced last year the couple had been asked to leave for being too radical.
Most residents want squatters gone
At a recent public meeting, hundreds of county residents publicly voiced their opposition to the actions of the small group with some even volunteering to accompany the sheriff to the refuge to ask them to leave.
“I was at each one of the meetings,” Long said. “The majority are of the opinion while they agree with trying to get some attention to the issue, but they do not agree with the taking of the federal reserve. It is just very disruptive for such a small community,” the sheriff added.
In addition, there has been public statements from the Audubon Society in Portland and from the leaders of the Burns Paiute Tribe. The tribe had been residents of the area for more than 6,000 years according to archeological findings. However, many members of the tribe were forcible relocated to a reservation in southern Washington in 1878. The tribe still has a small reservation about 30 miles from the refuge and owns 11,000 acres of land nationwide.
At a recent news conference, members of the tribe publicly called on the armed militants to leave the refuge and worried the people would damage sensitive archeological sites there.
Group causing disruption
It also has had a bigger impact on the rural community, forcing the schools to stay closed after the end of Christmas Break.
Essentially, they have had the schools shut down for a week and their courthouse was going to be closed, the sheriff from Tillamook County said.
Long, along with Deputy Brad Rohde joined with several personnel from nearby Malheur County to help Harney County personnel. When the Tillamook tandem returned Friday, Deputy David Jungling took over handling court security for the county courthouse.
The reinforcements from outside Harney County came after a conference call with several of the law enforcement agencies throughout the state right after the armed group took over the refuge.
“Our plan was to get a couple of us over there give them some resources right away with a few things,” the sheriff said Monday after returning to Tillamook.
“Number one was to get the courthouse open (in Burns) and make their community a little more normal,” Long added. “The schools need to be opened again.”
“They are going to be getting a lot of resources really fast,” the Tillamook sheriff said about his Harney County brethren.
The community has been very nervous with the armed protestors in the community and promising to stay for a long period.
“We gave them a 24-hour patrol. The folks out there at the refuge were going in and out of town quite a bit. So they needed to have some monitoring going on and let us know what they are seeing.”
“There is no roadblock out there, so those folks can come and go as they please, at this point,” he said.
While Long and the Malheur County sheriff helped handle the administrative load, Dep. Rohde had a different assignment.
“We had one deputy there last week helping them with court security. They don’t have a dedicated deputy like we do because the county is so small,” Long said.
The additional personnel allowed the courthouse to reopen and for deputies to cover the front door and other areas. “The courthouse was open by Monday afternoon (Jan. 4). And it stayed open the rest of the week,” the Tillamook sheriff added.
Hardy has just a small office in Burns, Long said. “Something like this becomes a big ordeal with an office that small.”
Long at desolate meeting
Long was also involved in a confrontation with Ammon Bundy where the Harney County sheriff told the protest leaders that it was time for them to leave and they would get safe passage out of the county and the state.
Sheriff Hardy was accompanied by Long and Sheriff Brian Wolfe of Malheur County.
Bundy later responded that the group would continue to stay and could be there for a year, if they wanted to.
The meeting was brief. “It was less than five minutes,” Long said. “It was a very pointed conversation. Sheriff Ward asked him (Bundy) to leave. He (Ward) said ‘I’d give you ride out of the state. This is your free ride out now and that it was a one-time offer.
“I think Bundy thinks he might be able to take that later on, but I don’t think that is the case at all,” Long added. “It was one-time, that day and Sheriff Ward asked for an answer.
“He (Bundy) said he was going to stay,” the Tillamook Sheriff added.
According to Long, the personnel from Tillamook will not be involved in the situation in Harney County for the near future as other counties rotate personnel to Burns.