Burns, OR - Oregon State Police Arrested Man In Stolen Fish And Wildlife Service Pickup - Reported Stolen With A Van To the Harney County Sheriff's Office

January 15, 2016


Oregon State Police arrested a man Friday they said was driving a federal government vehicle stolen from the wildlife refuge being occupied by an armed group.

Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Crescent was arrested at a Safeway grocery store in Burns on a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, authorities said.

Officials said they did not know whether he was one of the men occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since Jan. 2. He has a history of protesting against federal ownership of land, according to published reports.

A second federal vehicle also stolen from the refuge in recent days was recovered in connection with arrest of Medenbach, authorities said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vehicles — a van and a pickup — had signs with the name “Harney County Resource Center” stuck on them. That’s the name the occupiers have given the wildlife refuge.

Soon after they took over the wildlife refuge headquarters complex, the protestors began using federal vehicles they found there.

Medenbach’s is the first arrest in connection with the occupation.

The Harney County Sheriff’s Office on Friday afternoon said that Oregon State Police arrested Medenbach shortly after noon on Friday.

The wildlife service had previously reported to the Harney County Sheriff’s Office that the vehicles were stolen from the refuge.

Oregon State Police troopers and deputies from several county sheriff’s offices responded to the scene at Safeway.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is grateful for the quick actions from law enforcement,” USFWS spokesperson Megan Nagel said. “We will continue to work with law enforcement to recover vehicles bought and paid for by the American people to care for their national wildlife refuge.”

The two vehicles in question “were reported stolen after the start of the situation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” the Harney County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.

Medenbach previously operated a woodworking shop in La Pine that featured a secondhand police car that served as a faux speed trap, The Bend Bulletin newspaper reported.

In the mid-1990s, Medenbach claimed 640 acres of federal Bureau of Land Management land in north Klamath County. He used arguments similar to those advanced by the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to claim the federal government did not have the right to own the land.

Medenbach’s arguments did not prevail in court, the newspaper reported.

So far, authorities have not tried to remove the group from the Malheur refuge as the standoff hits the two-week mark. As it drags on, people in the high desert area are growing increasingly weary and wary of the group.

Cement barriers have been erected to block streets around the county courthouse in the small Eastern Oregon town of Burns, where police from around the state have set up a command center.

About 30 miles to the south, at the refuge, other protesters carrying what appear to be military-style rifles scan the snow-­covered rangeland from atop an old fire lookout that gives them a sweeping view of roads leading into the area.

“If we all keep a calm about us, everything will be OK,” Brenda Pointere said Thursday as she exited a Burns restaurant. “It started out calm, but the longer it goes on — you start to hear rumors.”

The occupation started Jan. 2 as a protest about two local ranchers who had been convicted of arson being returned to prison to serve longer sentences.
Afterward, a group led by Ammon Bundy traveled to occupy the refuge to protest the ranchers return to prison and demand that the 300-square-mile refuge be turned over to local control.

Bundy said he understood the frustration of Harney County residents.

“They have been suppressed to the point where they’re ready to act,” he said Thursday inside a heated wildlife refuge building while his brother, Ryan, and two women sat nearby.

Burns, nearby Hines and the local area have been in an economic tailspin for decades after the loss of a lumber mill that some blamed on federal restrictions involving timber harvests.

Restrictions on other federal lands are a common theme of frustration.

The Bundys had planned a meeting with community members Friday night, but it was in put in limbo after county officials said they couldn’t use the fairgrounds.

Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a spokesman for the group, told reporters Friday that protesters still were hopeful the meeting might occur next week, perhaps Monday, if they can find a location. He criticized local officials for “making sure we have no access to facilities to talk to the residents.”

The group has said they won’t leave until the ranchers jailed for arson are freed and the refuge is turned over to local control.

Locals who agreed to be interviewed were themselves conflicted, expressing anger toward federal land policies but bothered by the armed takeover.
“I don’t agree with anything they’re doing right now,” Ben McCanna said.

But McCanna, 54, also said the ranchers’ return to prison was wrong, and that he was irked that the U.S. Forest Service closed off access to one of his favorite camping spots in nearby Malheur National Forest.

The issue of land management is one discussed throughout the West. A group of mostly Republican congressmen is holding meetings in Southern Utah next week to hear concerns from local officials who worry a Bureau of Land Management proposal unfairly restricts livestock grazing and motorized recreation.