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Militia Occupies US Federal Wildlife Refuge


Protesters roam the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters in Burns, Ore., on Sunday, Jan 3, 2016. Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

Protesters roam the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters in Burns, Ore., on Sunday, Jan 3, 2016. Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

An armed group is occupying a federal building on a wildlife refuge in the western United States.

The anti-government militia broke into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service building in Oregon on Saturday. The group’s leaders said they are ready to stay for years.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it is working to bring the occupation of the wildlife center “to a peaceful resolution.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said its staffers are all safe. But it said on its website that the center is closed until further notice.

The group says it acted to protest prison sentences given to two cattle farmers. A court found Dwight and Steven Hammond guilty of setting fire on federal land in Oregon. The ranchers had used the land used for grazing by their cattle.

The group posted a sign at the occupied center that accused the government of abusing its power.

“We will be here as long as it takes,” said Ammon Bundy, a leader of the occupying group. He said the group has no plan to use force against anyone. But he said, “If force is used against us, we would defend ourselves.”

Harney County Sheriff David Ward said the group’s claim of working to support local ranchers is false. He said it wants to overthrow the local and federal government to start a movement across the U.S.

Bundy and his family led a 2014 armed standoff over grazing rights on federal lands in Nevada. The government ended the standoff by permitting Bundy and his family to continue to use the federal land for grazing.

Cliven Bundy (father of Ammon) at first won Republican Party support for his 2014 battle. He described it as a case of people fighting over-regulation by the federal government.

But Republicans later criticized Cliven Bundy after he said in an interview that African-Americans were better when they were slaves.

The case that touched off the current protest centers on Dwight Hammond, who is 73 years old, and his son Steven Hammond, 46. The Hammonds were given short sentences after their arrests for setting fire to federal land.

The Hammonds said that they set the fire on their own property to kill off “invasive” species and that the fire spread to the federal land. But an Oregon jury convicted them of arson in 2012.

In October, a federal appeals court ruled the judge made an error in his sentencing. The appeals court said the Hammonds should have served five years each. The judge had given a one-year prison sentence to Dwight Hammond and a three-month sentence to Steven Hammond.

A statement from the Hammonds said the two men are ready to turn themselves in and serve out their longer prison terms. The family said “no patriot group or individual has the right or authority to force an armed standoff…against their wishes.” (The two turned themselves in late Monday).

The U.S. government’s ownership of land is a big issue, mostly in western states. Ranchers have used the land for grazing since the mass migration west following the War of 1812. But the U.S. Department of Land Management said some grazing hurts habitat and must be regulated.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Chris Hannas reported on this story for VOANews.com. Bruce Alpert adapted this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

militiamen – n. a group of people who are not part of the armed forces of a country but are trained or act like soldiers

ranchern. a person who lives or works on a ranch

occupationn. a situation in which the military of a foreign government goes into an area or country and takes control of it

grazingv. to eat grass or other plants that are growing in a field, pasture, etc.

recreationn. something people do to relax or have fun : activities done for enjoyment

livestockn. farm animals (such as cows, horses, and pigs) that are kept, raised, and used by people

environmentn. the conditions that surround someone or something

intentionn. the thing that you plan to do

alternativeadj. offering or expressing a choice

motiven. a reason for doing something

standoffn. an argument, contest, etc., in which there is no winner

regulationn. an official rule or law

sentencen. time in prison

authorityn. the power to make decisions

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