(Reuters) – Oregon’s governor blasted the federal government’s response to the occupation of a wildlife refuge by a group of armed men saying the situation was “absolutely intolerable” and costing the state about $100,000 a week.
Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, said she had been asked by federal officials to limit her public comments about the protest which began on Jan. 2 at the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and that she had no wish to escalate the situation.
“But I will say this … The situation is absolutely intolerable and it must be must be resolved immediately. The very fabric of this community is being ripped apart,” Brown said on Wednesday at a news conference.
“The residents of Harney County have been overlooked and under-served by federal officials’ response thus far.”
The takeover at Malheur was the latest flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the U.S. government’s control of millions acres of land in the West.
The occupiers have declared their move is in support of two local ranchers who were returned to prison this month for setting fires that spread to federal land. The ranchers’ lawyer has said the occupiers do not speak for the family.
Law enforcement officials have so far kept their distance from the buildings at the refuge, 30 miles south of the small town of Burns in rural southeast Oregon’s Harney County, in the hope of avoiding a violent confrontation.
One of the occupiers was arrested last week after he drove a government vehicle to a local supermarket.
Brown called the situation a “spectacle of lawlessness” which must end and said she had conveyed her very grave concerns to the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House.
“Federal authorities must move quickly to end the occupation and hold all of the wrongdoers accountable,” the governor said. “And until Harney County is free of it, I will not stop insisting that federal officials enforce the law.”
The chair of the local Native American tribe has also called on the federal government to remove the occupiers.
Brown said the standoff was costing Oregon about $100,000 per week, mostly in additional law enforcement costs, and that she has asked her finance officials to “scour the budget” so they could subsidize the expense to Harney County.
“We will be asking federal officials to reimburse the state for these costs,” she said.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by Alan Crosby)