BURNS, Ore. (AP) — The leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge said Thursday that they may not have a meeting with local residents because the group can't find a place for the gathering.
The group protesting federal land policies had planned to hold a meeting Friday evening in Burns to explain themselves and tell residents when they will leave.
Leader Ammon Bundy told reporters the meeting is now in doubt because Harney County officials won't let them use the fairgrounds, as they had hoped.
"It's still in limbo," Bundy said. "We're still going to have it. It's just a matter of when and where."
Officials in Burns, about 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, said the meeting can't be held at the Harney County fairgrounds or any other county facility.
On Wednesday, the county fire chief — a sympathizer of the armed group — resigned over the county's refusal to host the meeting.
Chris Briels, a member of the Harney County Committee of Safety, announced his resignation surrounded by the cheering anti-government activists. The safety committee, which had previously asked the armed men to leave town, has now offered to take on the cause of the occupiers after they depart. That cause includes turning control of federal land over to local ranchers.
Briels, who said he does not condone violence but agrees with the armed men's mission, has been fire chief in the community for over 20 years. He said he resigned because he feels intimidated and betrayed by local officials.
Earlier this week, several members of the group occupying the wildlife refuge traveled to neighboring Grant County to ask the sheriff there to travel to Harney County to voice his support.
According to the East Oregonian, Sheriff Glenn Palmer declined. Though Palmer did not directly approve of the occupation, he described the armed men as "patriots" and commended them for bringing government land management issues to light.
On Thursday, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association issued a statement in support of Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who has been the face of the local response to the occupation.
Ward has listened to residents at community meetings and has met with Bundy to ask the armed men to leave the refuge. He even promised the group he'd escort them to the county's boundaries.
Bundy has previously said the occupiers would not leave until a plan was in place to turn over federal lands to local authorities. They also want the release of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers convicted of arson who returned to prison earlier this month to serve longer sentences.
The Hammonds' case set off the occupation on Jan. 2, but the two ranchers have distanced themselves from the armed group.
Federal, state and local law enforcement are monitoring the occupation but have not taken action to remove the armed group.
Meanwhile environmental groups have announced they'll hold rallies in Oregon and Washington to support national public lands and federal workers who oversee them.