Feds bolster security at wildlife preserves

Posted at 11:39 AM, Feb 04, 2016

The government has beefed up security at national wildlife refuges in states south of Oregon as an armed standoff over federal land policy has created tensions in the region and shows no sign of ending soon.

Additional security officers were sent to preserves in southern Oregon, Northern California and Nevada as four occupiers remain holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and say they will not leave without assurances they won't be arrested.

"No specific threats or incidents have occurred, but we remain vigilant to ensure employee and visitor safety throughout the region," Jody Holzworth, a Sacramento-based regional spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an email Wednesday.

The additional security measures are in place at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which straddles the Oregon-California border; Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada; and Modoc National Wildlife Refuge in Northern California.

As the holdouts drag out the occupation, a federal grand jury indicted standoff leader Ammon Bundy and 10 others who have already been arrested. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow said Wednesday that the indictment also includes "others," perhaps a reference to the remaining occupiers.

The 11 face a conspiracy charge of using intimidation to prevent federal officers from doing their work at the refuge, which is in a sparsely populated area of southeastern Oregon.

The occupation began Jan. 2, with Bundy and his followers demanding the federal government turn public lands over to local control. After his arrest during a traffic stop late last month, he repeatedly has called on the holdouts to go home to avoid bloodshed.

Authorities are monitoring the standoff but have not moved in to the federal property, instead arresting the main figures Jan. 26 on a remote road outside the refuge. That's where police shot and killed Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum during a confrontation.

The FBI says Finicum, a spokesman for the armed group, reached for a gun in his jacket pocket. Bundy supporters say his death was not justified.

His death led to protests this week by those supporting the occupation, while local residents rallied to urge the holdouts to leave, further dividing the strained community.

Federal authorities fear those tensions could pop up elsewhere.

Preserves and other sites run by the Fish and Wildlife Service nationwide are being extra vigilant, said Gavin Shire, the agency's chief of public affairs.

"Due to the evolving situation in eastern Oregon, all service stations are on alert and being advised to take appropriate caution," Shire said in a statement.