Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Changes coming to West as wildlife refuge occupiers await trial

Seven protesters involved in the widely publicized, armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge will face federal trial next year despite acquittals won by their leaders and a new administration in Washington that might warm to loosening the reins on land use in the vast expanses of the West. Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who with five others were acquitted in October of conspiracy and weapons charges, led the group of self-described patriots who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2. Bundy and many ranchers say tough restrictions on grazing and other uses of federal land threaten their way of life. The standoff focused a national spotlight on the long-running dispute over control of federal lands. "The election of Donald Trump does throw a huge wrench into the works," Notre Dame law professor Bruce Huber said. "To the extent that Trump prevailed among rural voters, it's entirely possible that we see policy more sympathetic to the occupiers."Undeterred, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland filed court papers this week saying prosecutors remain committed to putting seven more defendants on trial, adding that misdemeanor counts will be added to the felony charges the first group also faced. The acquittals make it clear that felony convictions won't be easy, Huber said. The misdemeanor counts would provide a jury with a compromise option between conviction on felony counts and acquittal. "Still, I would think the prosecution would still take it as a loss if all they get are misdemeanor convictions," Huber said. The political climate may now be improving for the group, he said...more

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