If the government wasn’t seizing the open land in the West and calling it federal land, the following case would never have been a problem but now citizen militia are possibly getting ready to protect a father and son on a ranch in Oregon who set prescribed fires on federal land without a permit on two separate occasions since 1999 and are now facing extended jail sentences after serving their time.
The ranchers, Dwight Hammond 73, and Steven Hammond 46, were convicted of arson, which were actually prescribed fires that grew out of control, and sentenced. Both served their sentences of 3 months for the father and one year for the son.
Prescribed fires are a normal part of ranching but when the Bureau of Land Management sets them and they go awry, nothing happens to their employees.
That isn’t what makes this story so egregious. What came next does. The federal government decided the judge who sentenced them should have put each in a federal pen for five years and has taken over the case, re-sentencing them after the fact and declaring them to be DOMESTIC TERRORISTS so they could level the harsh sentences.
They are being sent to jail for five years, ten years after the first case and five years after the second in what looks vengeful on the part of the government.
Five years is a very long time for someone 73 years old.
Oregon Live reported on the fires which were not arson in the sense that they were not deliberate and were part of normal ranching:
The Hammonds’ run-ins with the government began in 1999, when Steven Hammond started a fire that escaped onto U.S. Bureau of Land Management territory. The intent of the fire was to burn off juniper and sagebrush that hindered the growth of grass for their cattle.
BLM employees reminded Steven Hammond that although his family leased public land for grazing, he couldn’t burn it without a permit. But in September 2001, the Hammonds started another fire. This one ran off their property on Steens Mountain, consumed 139 acres of public land and took the acreage out of production for two growing seasons, according to court papers.
Then in August 2006, lightning sparked several fires near the spot where the Hammonds grew their winter feed. Steven Hammond set a back-burn to thwart the advancing flames, and it burned across about an acre of public land, according to federal court records.
The ranchers had already served shorter sentences because the federal judge originally overseeing their case said the five-year minimum requirement “would shock the conscience.”
The original judge in their case, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who is now retired, found that a five-year term would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because it’s “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here.”
Hogan did not believe the men had malicious intent to be labeled as terrorists under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, even though he sentenced them to jail for the time he did.
The men agreed to a plea deal that they would not appeal the 2012 sentence in order to bring the case to a close.
Before the re-sentencing, the Oregon Farm Bureau tried to convince the BLM to drop the arson charges against the Hammonds and replace them with charges that would not require a mandatory minimum sentence, said Dave Dillon, the organization’s executive vice president.
That didn’t work so the organization then circulated a “Save the Hammonds” petition that has been signed by more than 8,000 people.
“We did not make the progress we thought we should, so we’re taking a more public approach,” Dillon said.
Dillon said he recognized that the Hammonds faced slim chances of receiving less than five years, given the new ruling which came down from the 9th circuit.
“I find it incredible that the government would want to try these ranchers as terrorists,” said Barry Bushue, the longtime president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Now is where the rubber meets the road. Right now is when the public should absolutely be incensed. And the public, I think, should be fearful.”
After 34 years working for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Rusty Inglis is now the president of his county Farm Bureau organization and a member of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. He said both groups are working to help gain media attention for the Hammond case. The state Farm Bureau group gathered signatures online for a petition to show widespread support for the family. “Enough is enough. We are not in Nazi Germany. We are in the United States of America.”
Inglis hopes the petition, which has over 8,000 signatures, may convince the Obama administration to grant them clemency.
Just know that when you take a plea deal, the government can come back after you and say the deal is null & void.
We are releasing drug dealers in droves but not these men.
The men also lost their grazing rights for two years in addition to the harsh sentences.
The Hammonds have sold cattle because their BLM permits were revoked after Dwight and Steve were sentenced in 2012 for arson. Neighbor and fellow rancher Gary Miller said the arbitrary non-renewal of the permits sets a precedent that should have all ranchers concerned.
The Fence Post reported that during her tenure as a full time BLM employee from 1997-1999, Erin Maupin recalled other fires accidentally spilling over onto BLM land, but only the Hammonds have been charged, arrested and sentenced, she said. Ranchers might be burning invasive species or maybe weeds in the ditch. “They would call and the BLM would go and help put it out and it was not big deal.”
On the flip side, Maupin remembers numerous times that BLM-lit fires jumped to private land. Neighbors lost significant numbers of cattle in more than one BLM fire that escaped intended containment lines and quickly swallowed up large amounts of private land. To her knowledge, no ranchers have been compensated for lost livestock or other loss of property such as fences.
The fires set by the Hammonds, which were started on their lands, benefitted the land in the end.
Another issue which many will agree with is that it is wholly inappropriate for the federal government to own 53.1% of open Oregon land. The Constitution is clear on the issue of government ownership of land.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 states that the government can own land, by “Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress” to use as seats of government, for “Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.”
That’s not what is happening of course. They are taking land to control using various excuses and to make money off it or let it sit and rot. In any case, they take it off the tax rolls.
The government owns 84.5% of Nevada, 69.1% of Alaska, 57.5% of Utah, 50.2% of Idaho. You can look at the chart to see where the government is going with this.
The government, however, now owns the land and these men broke the law, but how far should the government go before someone tells them to stop?
The government is here to help and the BLM is a monolithic organization of heartless bureaucrats.