Pardoned ranchers who inspired Oregon occupation win back grazing permits
Dwight and Steven Hammond’s journey from ranchers to convicted domestic terrorists back to ranchers concluded this week when the federal government reissued permits allowing the father and son to graze cattle again on public land.
A Bureau of Land Management spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the agency had reinstated grazing permits for Hammond Ranches in Harney County, Oregon, who received full pardons from President Trump in July.
The Hammonds were sentenced to five-year mandatory minimum sentences in 2015 under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act for two prescribed burns that spread to public land, a sentence that stoked outrage in the rural West.
Public Lands Council president Bob Skinner and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Kevin Kester called the reinstated permits “the final step in righting the egregious injustices the Hammonds faced.”
“This is the culmination of years of effort on behalf of this industry to restore a family’s livelihood,” said their statement. “We speak on behalf of the livestock producers nationwide in saying thank you to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and his team who worked to correct the hardships this family faced.”
The Hammonds drew international attention in 2016 when Ammon and Ryan Bundy led a 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, to protest the harsh sentences. One protester, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot and killed by authorities during the incident.
Ethan Lane, senior executive director of PLC and NCBA Federal Lands, said the Hammonds learned Monday through their attorney that their grazing permits had been restored.
He emphasized that the Hammonds never sought the attention they received from the Malheur occupation.
“We continue to make the point that the Hammonds never asked for that,” said Mr. Lane, adding, “There’s been a rush to attach a lot of baggage to this thing, but if you really drill down to the actual issue, this is in our opinion the appropriate course of action, to restore their permits.”
Ranching Industry Praises Department of Interior After Agency Reissues Hammond Ranches’ Grazing Permit pic.twitter.com/Kssv3G6n8A NCBA’s Beltway Beef (@BeltwayBeef) January 28, 2019
Federal prosecutors argued that the Hammonds set the 2001 fire to cover up evidence of an illegal deer hunt. Dwight Hammond served three months in prison and Steven Hammond served a year, but they were resentenced to five-year terms after prosecutors won an appeal.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Hogan said such a sentence “would shock the conscience,” while supporters accused the Justice Department of making an example of the Hammonds, who had feuded for years with federal land managers.
“The reason these guys were in this legal fight was over a backburn, which is a fairly normal farming and ranching practice,” said Mr. Lane. “They had two backburns on their private land in an effort to protect their private property. Those fires jumped the line over to federal land and burned 100 acres.”
He said the BLM and Forest Service have also set managed burns that flared out of control and onto private land, but “there are no legal consequences.”
“For the ranching community, when they see that playing out and the government sort of shrugging their shoulders and saying, ‘Well, this stuff happens,’ and when a family tries to protect their private property in a similar manner and they’re put in prison on terrorism charges, it tends to build that narrative of mistrust,” said Mr. Lane.
Dwight Hammond, who was 76 when he was pardoned, had served about three years in prison, and Steven Hammond, 49, had served about four years, according to the White House. They had also paid $400,000 in restitution.
After the pardon, Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark said: “we hope that it is not seen as an encouragement to those who might use violence to seize federal property and threaten federal employees in the West.”
Mr. Lane also released a statement on behalf of the Hammond Ranches thanking Mr. Bernhardt and the BLM.
“They are looking forward to digging into the specifics of the reinstatement and, finally, getting back to the business of ranching,” said the statement.