Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s three sons and about 150 militiamen have occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge HQ to protest the pending imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers accused of “arson”, arguing the federal government has no authority in local cases. Arson is a stretch by the federal government to describe what are standard farmland burning techniques.
We will be covering this story throughout the upcoming weeks.
There is a lot to this story so please read the information below.
From Fox News:
Hours into the occupation by activists and militiamen a spokesman for the group told reporters that there has been no contact with the FBI or other government law enforcement since the occupation began Saturday night.
“They should be constitutional,” said spokesman Ammon Bundy, referring to the government. He is a son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who clashed with the feds two years ago.
Ammon Bundy said if the government did use force to retake the Malheur National Wildlife refuge “they would be putting lives at risk.”
The Hammonds, who are set to turn themselves in Monday afternoon, have said they set the two fires in the early 2000s to reduce the growth of invasive plants and to protect their property from wildfires, CNN affiliate KTVZ reported. They set the second fire to backstop a fire caused by lightening and by doing so saved a potential wildfire from spreading.
“Burning land” in rural areas is common and needed to avoid overgrowth, stave off forest fires and replenish swaths of land.
The government claims that at least one of the blazes were set with harmful intent and to cover up improper deer hunting and that the Hammonds endangered firefighters’ lives.
The original charges were brought by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2012, several years after either fire. The family never denied starting the fires, which they claim were targeted at preserving grazing value of the land, and the federal land burns were unintentional. However, the act under which they were charged requires a minimum five-year sentence in jail. A district judge balked at the mandatory five-year sentence, and sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months in prison – he was only linked to the 2001 fire, and his son Steven Hammond to one year in prison – he was linked to both the 2001 and 2006 events. And they both got three years of supervised release, according to media reports.
They then served their time.
However, federal prosecutors disagreed with the sentences noting that district judges basically can’t disregard mandatory sentence guidelines. The result is that minus time served, the two Hammonds are being sent back to jail to serve their original five-year sentence.
The dispute has also cost the Hammond family because they’ve lost their BLM grazing permits for the past two years, hindering their ability to ranch profitably.
There is a lot of tension in the west between militia groups and the federal government since the federal government owns the majority of land in the western United States as the chart and graph below shows.
Ranchers have been using this land for hundreds of years and the past few decades have seen the government try to imprison, sue and force ranchers off of federal, disputed and rancher owned land.
The federal government, especially the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have been over-exerting their authority and needlessly infringing on the rights of citizens all over the western part of the country.
The Hammonds have stated that they do not want any militia groups taking up their cause but people are so fed up with the federal government that they are doing it anyway.
History Of The Hammond Land Burns from the Western Livestock Journal
One of the fires, set in 2001, was a prescribed burn on Hammond’s private property; a routine rangeimprovement practice. The other fire, set on Hammond’s private property in 2006, was a back-burn intended to protect the ranch’s winter pasture from a lightening fire on adjacent federal land. Combined, the two fires burned about 140 acres of federal land. Now, although two Hammond family members have already done time in federal prison for setting these fires, they are facing a resentencing—now scheduled for late October—that could land them back in prison.
The Hammonds hold grazing rights on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and own private grazing acres intermingled with BLM land in the Steens Mountains. For 45 years, the Hammonds have used their BLM grazing rights and private property to run a successful operation. But now, their operation is being threatened not only by criminal and civil charges brought by the federal government, but with the loss of their grazing permits, as well. The BLM has refused to renew their grazing permits for two years running.
Although the family has refrained from making a public splash, the story is slowly getting out. Court documents are beginning to circulate. Those documents paint a picture of a family that serves on the local school board, volunteers in community clubs and counsels, and donates time, money and meat each year to local youth organizations and senior groups. District Court Judge Michael Hogan, the federal judge who first saw their case, went on record calling the Hammonds “the salt of their community.”
Why did Hammonds start the fires? According to court documents, the 2001 “Hardie-Hammond” fire was set under a long-standing plan between Hammonds and their BLM range conservationist to burn off invasive species on that section. They had called the BLM at noon that day to see if burning was permitted. After being told there was no burn ban in effect, the Hammonds told the BLM that they would be setting a fire on that section.
The fire later spread to approximately 139 acres of public land, land that happened to be one of Hammond’s grazing allotments. The Hammonds presented evidence that the spread onto public land was not intentional. However, back in 1999, a similar scenario had occurred (a prescribed burn on their land spread to public land), and the Hammonds had been warned that they would face serious consequences should it happen again. As an aside, according to the BLM itself, the 2001 Hardie-Hammond fire had, in fact, “improved range conditions” on the public lands.
The 2006 “Krumbo Butte” fire was started by lightening on public land adjacent to Hammond’s private land, where they grow their winter feed. Hammonds set a backfire that successfully kept the Krumbo Butte fire from burning a large portion of their private land. Their backfire burned about one acre of federal land.
Years later, BLM pressed charges for the above-mentioned fires, citing endangerment of human lives and damage to federal property. However, the district court found that no one had been endangered by the fires, and that the fires had caused minimal damage. In fact, the court found, the fire had arguably increased the value of the land for grazing.
What do you think? Do you side with the militia or the government? Tell us below in the comments!