The FBI on Thursday defended its response to an armed group that has occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge for weeks, calling it "deliberate and measured" as it seeks a peaceful solution.
The statement by the FBI came a day after Oregon Governor Kate Brown called the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge "absolutely intolerable."
"The FBI recognizes that many in the community have questions about why we are here and our role in helping to end the occupation of the wildlife refuge," the FBI said Thursday.
"This occupation has caused tremendous disruption and hardship for the people of Harney County, and our response has been deliberate and measured as we seek a peaceful resolution," the FBI said.
The armed group, led by Ammon Bundy, took over a building at the wildlife refuge near the town of Burns on Jan. 2, following a protest in Burns over the prison sentences handed down to a pair of local ranchers convicted of burning public land.
The group’s stated goal is the release of the ranchers, father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, and that the federal government turn over public land to local control. An attorney for the Hammonds has said the group does not speak for the two ranchers.
On Wednesday, Brown said "federal authorities must move quickly to end the occupation and hold all of the wrongdoers accountable," Brown said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service said a new road reportedly built by the group may have damaged archaeological sites important to the Burns Paiute Tribe. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that a new road was built, but a member of the group claimed they only removed snow from a path.
"There are any range of cultural artifacts that might have been impacted by this illegal construction," service spokesperson Miel Corbett said.
The federal agency has not been able to access the refuge to confirm that a road had been built, or whether any artifacts were damaged, Corbett said.
There are also Paiute artifacts kept at the building with the agreement of the tribe, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
"These artifacts have been curated and stored under lock and key, until the illegal occupants violated the security of the refuge," the service said in a statement. "For the individuals who have broken into the secure facilities to portray themselves and their actions as anything other than the violation it is, is simply another fabrication."