AP NEWS

Judge considers Hammond Ranches grazing permit

December 19, 2019 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A judge in Portland, Oregon, heard arguments Thursday about whether the U.S. government was right to renew the grazing permits of two ranchers who were pardoned last year by President Donald Trump on an arson conviction for setting fire to federal lands.

The Capital Press reports that U.S. District Judge Michael Simon was expected to reach a decision in the long-running case on Friday after hearing arguments from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which granted a 10-year grazing permit Dwight and Steven Hammond after Trump’s pardon. The renewal prompted a coalition of environmental groups to sue.

Simon in July limited where the Hammonds could graze their cattle, but let them continue to use other portions of the public allotments for their ranching operation in remote southeastern Oregon while the environmental groups continued with their legal challenge.

The Hammonds, a father and son who raise cattle near Diamond, Oregon, were convicted of arson in 2012 for setting a fire on federal land that burned about 140 acres. They were initially sentenced to minimal terms and released. But the Hammonds were sent back to prison in 2016 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they must both complete the federal mandatory minimum sentence of five years for arson.

Their rearrest sparked a protest that developed into a 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, led by two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The standoff got international attention and ended shortly after authorities shot and killed the protestors’ spokesman as a small group of the occupiers drove to a meeting in Burns.

The Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians filed a motion earlier this year to revoke the Hammonds’ grazing permits on the grounds that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should not have granted the permits given the Hammonds’ past conviction.

David Becker, an attorney for the environmental groups, told the judge that “livestock grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right.”

“Like any privilege, it’s subject to revocation if it’s abused,” he said.

During their 2012 arson trial, the Hammonds said they burned the federal lands to destroy invasive weeds. Prosecutors said they burned the land to cover up the fact that they had illegally killed a herd deer on the land.