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Bullies of Burns: the Backstory on the Hammonds

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Dwight Hammond and his son Steve, the ranchers who sparked the recent Harney County protests, were characterized as “responsible ranchers” by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) in a speech before Congress.

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.

Despite their bad behavior, it has been revealed that the Hammonds are negotiating with the BLM to get their grazing permit reinstated after the BLM revoked it for their numerous violations and crimes.

The Bundy gang that is holding the Malheur Refuge and Harney County residents as hostages, characterized the Hammonds as victims of government “overreach” and are demanding that the Hammonds get their permit reinstated as one of the conditions they required to leave Harney County.

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, the Hammonds set a fire that burned public land in 1999, but no charges were brought against them. Then in 2001 they set another fire to hide the fact that they had poached at least seven deer out of season with other deer wounded and limping away according to witnesses. 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.

After they set the fire, it is alleged they threatened bodily harm to a teenage relative and told him to keep his mouth shut about the fire.

Then in 2006 the Hammonds set yet another arson fire was set 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. The Hammonds were arrested in 1994 and charged with 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 retaliation, Hammond purposely disabled a bulldozer along the route of a fence line that was being constructed to keep their cows from trespassing on OUR public property. When the fence crew showed up, and called for a tow truck to remove the Hammond’s bulldozer, Dwight Hammond leaped to the levers and suddenly lowered the blade nearly killing one of the federal employees. Hammond was not even arrested or charged for this event.

After this incident, the refuge manager and others began to receive death threats over the phone. The refuge manager’s wife had to leave the area for fear of her life.

However, this was nothing new. In 1986, 19888, and 1991, Hammond made repeated death threats against refuge managers, plus frequently engaged in verbal abuses towards other federal workers.

Despite their vitriol rhetoric and disdain for the federal government, the Hammonds 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, and who knows what else. Meanwhile they own 12,866 acres of land plus other assets like homes, equipment, and other valuables making them multi-millionaires who have no shame about taking taxpayer subsidies from the very government they continuously rail against.

The Hammonds are a genuine threat to our public lands. They intimidate public employees and violate the regulations designed to protect public property. Public lands are part of our national patrimony that are being trashed for the private profit of individuals like the Hammonds. The only public property the Hammonds should have access to is in the public prison where they are serving time for their blatant disregard for our public lands heritage.

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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