By George Wuerthner as published on OregonLive.com
“The Hammonds are anything but “responsible ranchers” or victims of government “overreach.” They are criminals who have repeatedly violated the law and have frequently avoided paying the penalties.”
President Trump pardoned Dwight Hammond and his son Steve, the ranchers who sparked the take-over of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by the Bundy mob. Trump’s pardon was based on lobbying by Congressman Greg Walden who characterized the Hammonds as “responsible ranchers” and portrayed them as victims of government overreach.
Walden sought to minimize the crimes the Hammonds have committed by suggesting they merely burned a bit more than a hundred acres, something that he tried to compare to normal everyday range management by federal agencies.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that Walden is ignoring decades of violations and other crimes committed by the Hammonds.
The Hammonds are anything but “responsible ranchers” or victims of government “overreach.” They are criminals who have repeatedly violated the law and have frequently avoided paying the penalties.
For instance, according to High Country News, the Hammonds set numerous fires to public lands over a 28-year period totaling 45,000 acres.
In 2001, the Hammonds set a fire to hide the fact that they had poached at least seven deer out of season, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Oregon. A hunting guide who witnessed the event was forced to leave his camp and flee for his life to avoid the flames. The fire burned 139 acres of public property and destroyed evidence of their poaching.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Hammonds later threatened bodily harm to a teenage relative, telling him to keep his mouth shut about the fire.
In 2006, Steve Hammond set yet another arson fire that nearly overcame a BLM fire crew that was attempting to quell another blaze.
The arson charges were not the Hammonds’ first brush with the law. According to an article by Kathy Durbin in High Country News, the Hammonds were arrested in 1994 and charged with a felony for interfering with federal officials. The charge had a three-year maximum sentence, but they only spent two nights in jail after then-Congressman Bob Smith intervened on their behalf.
After numerous violations of his grazing terms on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Dwight Hammond had his grazing permit revoked. In an affidavit from Special Investigator Earl Kisler, Hammond purposely disabled a bulldozer along the route of a fence line that was being constructed to keep their cows from trespassing on the refuge. When the fence crew showed up, Hammond leaped to the levers and suddenly lowered the blade “narrowly missing” another special agent.
However, this was nothing new. According to a 1995 Village Voice article, Hammond made repeated death threats against refuge managers in 1986, 1988, and 1991, plus frequently engaged in verbal abuses towards other federal workers.
Despite the Hammonds disdain for the federal government, they gladly collected a minimum of nearly $300,000 in direct subsidies from taxpayers, not to mention the below-cost grazing fees they enjoyed while feeding their cattle on public grasslands, as well as taxpayer-financed predator control.
Public lands are part of our national patrimony that is being trashed for the private profit of individuals like the Hammonds. The only public property the Hammonds should have access to is the public prison where they are serving time for their blatant disregard for our public lands heritage.
— George Wuerthner is an ecologist who lives in Bend.