A local judge in Oregon has declared that the leader of armed ranchers currently occupying a national wildlife refuge are racking up expenses for the county and should foot the bill of $75,000 a day.
The group of ranchers is sitting out a protest in Malheur Wildlife Refuge for 10 days through cold temperatures and dwindling food supplies in a bid to change federal laws on land management.
The leader is Ammon Bundy, a rancher from Nevada who took it upon himself to protest against extended prison sentences of Steven and Dwight Hammond, local ranchers who set fire to federal land.
Harney County judge Steve Gratsy said at a town meeting in Burns that the ranchers are costing the community between $50,000 and $75,000 a day for the first week of their occupation.
“We’re going to send Mr Bundy the bill,” said Mr Gratsy to loud applause, as reported by The Guardian.
The costs reportedly include law enforcement overtime, school closures, setting up and operating a special command center, and extra supplies and food for country workers.
The Association of Oregon Counties Executive Director Mike McArthur, who is involved with providing Mr Gratsy with strategic advice and “encouragement”, told The Independent: “I trust judge Gratsy as the administrator, the judge and the CEO of the county and he knows the costs involved. He can backfill what has been spent.”
Mr McArthur declined to comment on whether Mr Bundy could legally be made to pay the bill or whether the rancher could afford to pay it.
The Association aims to engage the Federal government on measures to mitigate similar armed stand-offs from happening again, through “education, mitigation and implementation”.
Asked if it was likely that another stand-off could in the future, as Oregon has a history of disputes between the Bureau of Land Management and ranchers, Mr McArthur said: “I hope not.”
Local sheriff Dave Ward issued a statement on Monday in which said he has been dealing with other right-wing groups since Mr Bundy made a “call to arms”.
“They claim to be here in peace, but we continue to see behavior by some that is concerning,” he wrote.