Oregon Occupation Sheds Light On Local Frustrations, But Divides Residents Some in the community of Burns, Ore., welcome the attention on long-running conflict between ranchers and the federal government. Others question the out-of-town militants' tactics and goals.

Oregon Occupation Sheds Light On Local Frustrations, But Divides Residents

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the nearby town of Burns, some people have welcomed the occupation and the attention it's bringing to frustrations over the management of federal lands. Others reject the militants as outsiders. Here's Amelia Templeton of Oregon Public Broadcasting with that.

AMELIA TEMPLETON, BYLINE: Right at the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, there's a small RV park and store called The Narrows. It's run by run by Ron Gainer and his wife, Linda. On Saturday, when Ammon Bundy's occupation started, a few of the men stopped by the store to buy ammunition and food, and Gainer packed up some leftovers for the occupiers.

RON GAINER: Chile and soup, I think.

LINDA GAINER: Yeah.

R. GAINER: And some rolls. They'll probably enjoy it, and that's what we do here.

TEMPLETON: Gainer says he thinks the federal government is too involved in local affairs.

R. GAINER: I kind of agree with a lot of this. I don't know why the federal government has to be here in the numbers that they are.

TEMPLETON: Like many people here, Gainer is angry that Dwight and Steven Hammond, local ranchers convicted of arson, received two different sentences for their crime. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that their original sentence was too short. It violated a five-year mandatory minimum for arson on federal land. To Gainer, that made the government seems vindictive.

R. GAINER: They did their time, and now they're back. And then all of a sudden, that wasn't good enough, so the government went around for round two to see if they can't get more time.

TEMPLETON: Hearney County is one of the largest in Oregon, but fewer than 8,000 people live scattered across it. The largest community, Burns, is a town of one-story wooden houses a half hour north of the wildlife refuge. People still haven't taken down their Christmas lights.

LARRY NORTHEY: I just don't want to see no bloodshed.

TEMPLETON: That's Larry Northey, a former mill worker and welder who's out in the snow working on his truck engine. He's worried police officers could get hurt.

NORTHEY: A lot of these officers here I know, I'm good friends with. I want them to all come back safe.

DEBBIE PFEIFFER: I don't like what's going on at the refuge.

TEMPLETON: A few blocks away, Debbie Pfeiffer was walking her dog.

PFEIFFER: It's a little unsettling to have these outsiders come in and try to co-opt the community and tell us what we should think.

TEMPLETON: Pfeiffer works part-time for the local library. She's spent time at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One of the occupied buildings is a museum she likes to visit.

PFEIFFER: I am really hoping, crossing my fingers that none of that's getting destroyed.

TEMPLETON: All of the schools in Hearney County have been shut down for the week. Talia Ward's children are at home. She says it's hard to explain to them the very adult situation going on. At first, she was fearful.

TALIA WARD: I heard militia, and I think, like a lot of other people in town, just that word - I was terrified because I didn't know anything about it.

TEMPLETON: But Ward says her views have evolved as she's learned more.

WARD: I sat and listened. I marched in the rally for the Hammonds. I support them with all my heart, and I want something done.

TEMPLETON: Ward has lived in Burns her whole life. She says the town used to have a railroad and one of the largest sawmills in Oregon. That mill closed in the 1980s, and Ward blames the federal government and the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

WARD: It's sad to be a citizen here and know that so many amenities have been shut down in Hearney County, to sit and watch your friends move away because they don't have jobs here unless you go to work for the BLM.

TEMPLETON: Ward says she doesn't think the armed occupation is right, but for the first time, she feels like someone is standing up for her town. For NPR News, I'm Amelia Templeton in Burns, Ore.

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