Here’s the story the corporate media will not tell you.
Dwight Hammond, 73 and son Steven Hamond, 46, were prosecuted and convicted as part of an effort to remove the Hammond family from their ranch land.
In October Tri-State Livestock News did a story on the Hammonds and the sentence they received for inadvertantly burning about 140 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangeland in two separate fires.
“The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area,” states a Department of Justice news release cited by the livestock industry trade publication.
According to the article the BLM often worked with ranchers on collaborative burns to manage invasive juniper that steal water from grass and other cover. Erin Maupin, a former BLM range technician and watershed specialist and rancher in the area, said backfires by other ranchers had burned BLM land in the past and the agency had not taken action.
During her tenure as a full time BLM employee from 1997-1999, Maupin recalled other fires accidentally spilling over onto BLM land, but only the Hammonds have been charged, arrested and sentenced, she said. Ranchers “would call and the BLM would go and help put it out and it was not a big deal.”
On the other hand, Maupin said, there were numerous instances of BLM fires spreading to private land and ranchers losing significant numbers of cattle and other property. Maupin said she was unaware of the BLM compensating ranchers for destroyed property.
BLM recklessness is not limited to Oregon:
In 2013, two South Dakota prescribed burns started by the U.S. Forest Service—over the objections of area landowners—blew out of control, burning thousands of acres of federal and private land. Ranchers that suffered property damage from the Pautre fire in Perkins County, South Dakota filed extensive tort claims in accordance with federal requirements, but will receive no compensation because USDA found the U.S. Forest Service not responsible for that fire.
Government Targeted Hammonds
As part of a deal to fend off an effort by the federal government to designate Steens Mountain as a federal monument, ranchers traded their BLM permits and private property for land on the valley floor. This allowed Congress to create a 170,000 acre wilderness in 2000.
“The last holdouts on that cow-free wilderness are the Hammonds,” said Maupin.
“It’s become more and more obvious over the years that the BLM and the wildlife refuge want that ranch. It would tie in with what they have,” Rusty Inglis, an area rancher and retired US Forest Service employee, told the trade publication.
The BLM prevented the Hammonds from watering their cattle by draining a water hole. Government scientists and resource managers supported the use of the water hole, but they were defeated by high level bureaucrats backed special interest anti-grazing groups. The Oregon Natural Desert Association worked with the government to deny the family a lease on a parcel of land that bordered the refuge “in order to expand the cow-free wilderness,” according to Maupin.
In addition, the BLM refused to renew a permit that allowed the ranchers to use a large amount of intermingled private land.
“We have done everything according to their rules and regulations and there is no reason that they should not give us back our permit. We don’t understand how a federal land management agency can ‘take’ personal private property (checkerboarded with BLM land) in this manner,” said Susan Hammond, Dwight’s wife.
During a plea agreement on the arson charge in 2012 the Hammonds agreed to allow the BLM to obtain the first right of refusal should the family sell their private land.
“The Hammond family is not arsonists. They are number one, top notch. They know their land management,” said Inglis. “We are not in Nazi Germany. We are in the United States of America.”
A Wealth of Natural Resources
After the Hammonds are gone the federal government will be free to fully exploit natural resources on federal and “monument” land in Harney County.
A US Geological Survey Bulletin (1740-B) indicates there is a high potential for silver, gold, copper, mercury, uranium and molybdenum (a refractory metallic element used principally as an alloying agent in steel) and other resources in the area. There is also a moderate estimate for natural gas and oil.
The feds want to drive ranchers and private property owners off the land because on patented land (an exclusive private property land grant), which has passed into private ownership, a mining interest does not need to lease land or file a plan or notice with the federal government.
In regard to oil, the BLM “does not tell you that its share of total oil production has dropped dramatically due to substantial increases in oil production on private and state lands that are not subject to the onerous regulations and permitting delays of the federal government,” notes the Institute for Energy Research.
The Hammonds and other private property owners stand in the way of total federal monopolization of natural resources and that is why in part we are witnessing an unprecedented land grab in the West.
“Much of the land targeted for government takeover holds great oil and natural gas resources which could provide jobs in the energy industry and a flow of resources from our own American supply. Once those lands become ‘monuments’, access to those natural resources is limited and in the hands of the federal government,” explains the Property Rights Alliance.
“The government offers little explanation for the land-grab frenzy, but there are plenty of reasons to oppose it. First and foremost, it is unconstitutional for the government to simply take land from states without compensation. Second, government-controlled land takes away opportunities for development, particularly when it comes to accessing much needed resources. The land designated as ‘monument’ space could have created dozens of employment opportunities—opportunities which will go wasted under the thumb of the federal government.”