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The Awful Truth About the Hammonds

Photo by Ken Lund | CC BY 2.0

President Trump pardoned Oregon rancher Dwight Hammond and his son Steve. The pair were jailed for arson and were the inspiration for the take-over of Malheur NWR by the Bundy mob.

Trump’s pardon was based on lobbying by Oregon Congressman Greg Walden who characterized the Hammonds as “responsible ranchers” and portrayed them as victims of government overreach.

Walden sought to minimize the multiple crimes the Hammonds have committed by suggesting they had merely burned a bit more than a hundred acres of public land, 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 committed by the Hammonds.

For instance, according to a High Country News story, the Hammonds set numerous fires to public lands over a 28-year period, that charred tens of thousands of acres.

According to the US Attorney office, in 2001 the Hammonds set one fire to hide the fact that they had poached at least seven deer out of season. 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, again according to the US Attorney’s office, the Hammonds threatened bodily harm to a teenage relative and told 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.

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 Oregon 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, Dwight Hammond leaped to the levers and suddenly lowered the blade “narrowly missing” another special agent.

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. According to a 1995 Village Voice article by James Ridgeway and Jeffrey St. Clair, Hammond made repeated death threats against refuge managers in 1986, 1988, and 1991, plus frequently engaged in verbal abuses towards other federal workers.

Among the many anonymous phone threats, the Village Voice reported the refuge manager received a call (it is not clear if this was from the Hammonds or others in the community) that promised to wrap the refuge manager’s 12-year-old son in barbed wire and shove him down a well.

Despite the Hammonds disdain for the federal government, they gladly collected a minimum of $900,000 in direct crop and $500,000 in livestock 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.

To pardon the Hammonds only encourages future disrespect for the law and invites disregard for federal authority.

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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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