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Washington • Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Saturday that the lack of local support for the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge helped curtail a more dangerous outcome and the spread of another "Sagebrush Rebellion."
Jewell also praised a strong relationship between the federal government and local leaders for helping to tamp down what could have been a more explosive incident.
"We did get a peaceful end to that, which could have gone very, very differently," Jewell said at the National Governors Association conference in Washington.
Jewell, across the table from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, said that the "extraordinary" part of the 40-day standoff between federal agents and an armed militia that took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was the collective work among the Interior Department, the FBI, state and local leaders and landowners that "meant that people that occupied that refuge did not have local support."
"Because of that," Jewell said, "what I think some were hoping to be the next Sagebrush Rebellion did not get traction."
The Sagebrush Rebellion refers to a movement that began in the 1970s for more local control of public lands in the West, an issue that has been revived in recent years including an effort by Utah leaders to force the federal government to turn over lands to the state.
On Jan. 2, an armed militia, upset over two cattle ranchers sentenced to prison for arson, took over the wildlife refuge in remote Oregon and declared they would hold their ground against federal authorities. Several members of the group – including Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy – were later arrested and their spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was killed by police after he reportedly reached for a gun.
The last occupiers left the refuge on Feb. 11.
Brown told Jewell that she will need help from the federal government as Harney County, where the standoff occurred, recovers from the occupation.
"I just want to say, thank you, thank you," Brown told Jewell repeating herself.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, the chairman of the National Governors Association, noted that the Sagebrush Rebellion movement involved several Democratic governors of Utah and not just Republicans.
"It's been a bipartisan frustration," Herbert said. "It's been a bipartisan issue. I hope when we talk about these things, it's not a partisan thing."