A group of militiamen tore down a federal fence Monday, which they said obstructed a local ranching family from grazing their cattle.
The move was the most aggressive yet since the men stormed the Malheur Wildlife Refuge outside of Burns, Oregon, on Jan. 2.
According to the Oregonian, the men used the Fish and Wildlife’s own tools including an excavator to take down the fence, which was just erected last year after the refuge received a $100,000 grant.
The effort–like the standoff itself– was led in part by Ammon Bundy who ripped down the barbed wire “with only his bare hands,” the Oregonian wrote.
The occupation has been mostly quiet up to this point. The armed men have threatened to stay at the property until the federal government releases Dwight and Steven Hammond, two local ranchers who were convicted for arson on federal lands and are currently serving their sentences.
Tearing apart a federal fence takes the standoff to a new level. Bundy told reporters that a local family actually showed the militiamen where to destroy the fence so they could graze their 600 cattle in the area. (It appears to be a different family than the Hammonds, whose land adjoins the refuge, but the other family was not named.)
“This will help them out, being able to run their ranch like they have in the past,” Bundy told the Oregonian.
The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement blasting the ranchers’ actions and warned it could result in additional legal action against the men at the refuge.
“If they take down the fences, it hurts the refuge, but it also destroys the positive conservation impacts reaped from decades of direct collaboration and sweat equity paid by the Harney County (and surrounding) communities, ranchers, landowners, partners and friends,” Fish and Wildlife said, according to the Oregonian.