Dwight and Steven Hammonds are back on the ranch, after a long and lengthy battle over grazing rights and property management. But even after a pardon and release from prison, the journey back to reinstating their grazing permits has just begun.
Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council talked with host Chip Flory about the saga on AgriTalk during the 2019 Cattle Industry and NCBA Tradeshow.
The Hammonds were back-burning on private property, a normal ranching method to lower wildfire risk and control timber encroachment, when some federal lands caught on fire.
“That’s an important part of this,” Lane said. “It was a normal farming and ranching practice.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revoked their permit to graze federal lands after the Hammonds were convicted of felony arson in 2012. They were sentenced to five years in prison under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
Rancher outrage over the Hammond’s imprisonment and what they considered BLM overreach later led to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, in 2016. The occupation resulted in a 40 day standoff between law enforcement and protestors.
After pushback and pleas from the ranching community for their release, the Hammond were eventually pardoned by President Trump on July 10, 2018.
“One of the things about BLM grazing rights is you can’t hold a grazing permit if you are a felon, so that full pardon was critical to getting them fully restored,” Lane said.
Behind the Scenes
Bob Skinner, the current president of Public Lands Council, is from eastern Oregon and is one of the Hammond's neighbors. Before this issue became national news, Lane said Skinner was part of a negotiating team that was working with BLM to try to resolve this internally.
“With the Malheur standoff kind of coming into the middle of that it really took it in another direction that the Hammonds didn't want and obviously the industry and everybody else was trying to avoid. It made it a much more politically charged situation than it should have been,” Land said.
In late January 2019, the Hammonds received word that their permits would be reinstated, after the Department of Interior reached out to them and their lawyers.
“Now that just starts the process,” Lane said. “There's nothing simple in the world of federal grazing permits. Now, the hard work begins of making sure that what they've received back is reflective of what their preference grazing rights should be and what they've historically had.”
Cattle and Federal Lands: Benefits To Both
Drovers editorial director Greg Henderson reminded AgriTalk listeners that there is great benefit to having cattle grazing federal lands.
“And there's plenty of research that that tells us that those cattle are actually beneficial to many of the environments in the West and that it's critical to maintaining the ecosystem,” Henderson said. “There's a lot of other political agendas at work here other than just what you're describing, Ethan.”
“That’s exactly right,” Lane added. “The conservation community sure can accomplish what they want to accomplish without grazing. If you take us out of the equation, everybody loses—wildlife loses, resources lose, wildfire takes over, we start to get cheatgrass and things like that moving into those areas. It's a domino effect. And the only thing keeping those forces at bay is good management being put on the ground by ranchers across the country.”
Click the player above hear more with Ethan Lane on the Hammonds and how the Public Lands Council plans to work with new leadership in Congress.