Three environmental activist groups have filed suit to block the renewal of a 10-year grazing permit for Hammond Ranches Inc., operated by Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son Steven Hammond.
The complaint, filed May 13, 2019, in U.S. District Court in Pendleton, OR, was filed by Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians. Defendants were named as the U.S. interior secretary, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the BLM’s district manager in Burns, OR. The complaint argues that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s renewal of the grazing permit after the Hammonds were issued pardons violated federal administrative regulations because it failed to consider the Hammond’s unsatisfactory record.
According to a report in Oregonlive, the groups contend the Hammond’s grazing record violated regulations set by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Department of Interior and that the new permit didn’t undergo proper environmental assessments.
The complaint also suggests the renewed grazing will harm sage-grouse habitats in the region and increase invasive weeds and the likelihood of destructive fires.
Ironically, reducing the threat of wildfires was one reason cited by the BLM in renewing the Hammond’s grazing permits, to last through 2024.
Renewal of the Hammond’s grazing permits were rejected in 2014, and the BLM cited their criminal convictions for setting fire to public land. They were convicted of arson in 2012 and Dwight Hammond served three months in prison and his son Steven Hammond to a year and one day. However, because they were convicted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 which called for mandatory five-year prison sentences, prosecutors returned the two to court where a judge ordered them back to prison in January, 2016.
That was the spark that set in motion the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in Oregon, led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the sons of Cliven Bundy who was at the center of his own standoff with the BLM in Nevada in 2014. The Hammonds were pardoned by President Trump on July 10, 2018.
“It’s appalling to watch the Trump administration make up the rules as they go along,” Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity told OregonLive. “We’ve seen this type of lawlessness infect all aspects of public lands management under Trump, and we’re going to fight it. The public lands at stake are important sage-grouse habitat, highly vulnerable to invasive species, and are just beginning to recover.”