An Oregon judge wants the ranchers who are occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Center to repay the government the money the armed occupation has cost, or between $60,000 and $75,000 per day for the first week after their arrival, the Guardian reported. The group, led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, has been protesting the imprisonment of two local ranchers who torched government land and then were sentenced to return to prison for a longer sentence after they were released.
Leaders from the group have said they will not leave the wildlife refuge until the federal government acquiesces to their demands, including the release of the incarcerated ranchers as well as the forfeiture of millions of acres of federal lands back to local and state authorities, MSNBC reported. The standoff has been ongoing since Jan. 2.
The occupation has cost the local government up to $75,000 a day and could climb to a total of $1 million if the ranchers do not leave, said Harney County Judge Steve Grasty. The costs incurred were from school closures, police overtime, extra supplies for county workers and the construction and operation of a special command center, the Independent reported.
Bundy, the de facto leader of the protests, has been embroiled in controversy with the federal government before. He and his father were in a standoff with federal agents in 2014 on their Nevada ranch over the issue of grazing rights on public land.
“We’re going to send Mr. Bundy the bill,” Grasty said at a local meeting Monday night. The Harney County judge has been an outspoken critic of the ranchers’ movement and wants the ranchers to repay the money, noting that the 7,000-person county could not absorb such expenses.
The Harney community tended to agree with Grasty, according to the results of a recent town hall meeting. “It was overwhelming in terms of the local community wanting the armed militants to go home,” said Laura Cleland, communications director for the Association of Oregon Counties, as reported by Al Jazeera. “That wasn’t 100 percent unanimous, there was a small group who didn’t support that," she said.