Bundy has repeatedly rejected calls to leave buildings at the refuge despite pleas from the county sheriff, from many local residents and from Oregon's governor, among others. While some in the local community are sympathetic to Bundy's group, Ward was cheered at a packed community meeting in Burns, Oregon, on Wednesday evening when he said the group needed to leave. "They need to be charged and prosecuted".
"During this morning's press conference, the people on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge made it clear that they have no intention of honoring the sheriff's request to leave", according to a statement posted Friday afternoon on the Harney County Sheriff's Office Facebook page.
The takeover that began on Saturday at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles (48 km) south of the small town of Burns, is the latest incident in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of land and resources in the U.S. West. MacFarlane says Bundy and the other leaders of the occupation were "alarmed" by the arrival of the Pacific Patriot Network members, some of whom were carrying rifles. "If something happens in your community, that's what militias are for".
Bundy repeatedly pressed Ward to address the group's grievances, which include freeing two imprisoned ranchers and the federal government's land use policies.
But prosecutors said the Hammonds torched about 130 acres of public land in an attempt to cover up the poaching of deer on federal property. The Hammonds have disavowed support for the occupiers. In a meeting Thursday to resolve the standoff, Ward asked Ammon Bundy to "respect the wishes of Harney County residents" and vacate the land.
Both Bundy and the sheriff have said that the two sides would talk again on Friday.
Federal, state and local law authorities have been closely monitoring the situation at the refuge but have so far taken no action against Bundy and his followers, apparently to avoid a confrontation.
Todd MacFarlane, a Utah lawyer acting as a mediator, said occupation leader Ammon Bundy and others were concerned about the perception the armed visitors conveyed. Their father, Cliven Bundy, along with a band of armed men, stared down federal agents trying to seize his livestock in Nevada in 2014.
In 1993 federal agents laid siege to a compound in Waco, Texas, being held by the Branch Davidians religious group for 51 days before the standoff ended in a gun battle and fire in April of that year. The group also opposes prison sentences for two area ranchers convicted of arson.