sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Monday, January 4, 2016

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Controversy

If you're reading my blog, you likely join me in a certain level of disgust with the mainstream media, which follows one agenda at the exclusion of all else including reporting the news in a fair and balanced way. There's an "Occupy" situation going on at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.

I am trying not to take sides in this and to present as fair and balanced an account as I can here. 

The Left presents the case that the problem began during the Reagan Administration with a retreat from "saving the planet" and an effort to return sovereignty disputed range land to property owners. This is firmly at odds with the efforts under the Obama Administration to reclaim land owned by private individuals by manipulating the law and bending the rules to the extent possible. The government agencies engaged her are the the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to a much lesser extent, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The situation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon (M-NWR) is characterized in the news as a stand-off between armed white people and the US Government.  I will try to present facts and let you, the jury make of it what you will.

In 1964, Dwight Hammond - 73 (and his son, Steve - 46) purchased a ranch in Oregon’s Harney Basin, comprising about 6000 acres of privately owned property adjacent to the M-NWR. Included in that purchase were:
  •  A ranch house
  •  Rights to three sources of water
  •  Rights to graze cattle on public lands.
For those of you who are unaware, rights to water use (i.e. water rights) are property rights that are transferred in much the same way that a patent deed is transferred. Rights to graze cattle on public lands can be altered by the Bureau of Land Management based on prior notification and are not transferred the way a property right is.
During the 1970's the Bureau of Land Management expanded the Masher refuge by buying many of the ranches that bordered the government owned refuge. Eventually and over time, the refuge surrounded the Hammond ranch. BLM tried to buy the Hammond's ranch on many occasions but they refused, as did several other ranch owners. 

BLM determined that “grazing livestock is detrimental to wildlife and must be reduced”. About 60%  of the grazing permits on PUBLIC LAND were revoked, forcing a number of ranchers to leave. Permit fees were raised exorbitantly. The argument the Hammond family advances is that the government was forcing them to sell. However, the permits did not pertain to their land. Only to federal land. 
As one who grew up around cattle, I do understand the need of ranchers to graze their stock on BLM land in the West, however, there is no RIGHT to do that and the government as a steward of the land has the right to regulate the cost of grazing permits. Like it or not like it, that's how it is.
The Hammond family refused to sell their ranch to the government, and the water sources, legally owned by the Hammond family were fenced off by BLM since they had to cross part of M-NWR to reach it. 
In most cases there is an easement to deal with this sort of situation, but BLM seems to have wanted the Hammond's land and exercised every legal right to get it.
Burning

In 2001, Steve Hammond started a controlled burn on his property. It spread to public land where burned 127 acres and was extinguished by the Hammonds. This did not result in any legal action.

Five years later, in 2006, lightening ignited several fires that merged and threatened both the Hammond's winter range and their ranch house. To save the situation, Steve Hammond started a backfire. The backfire saved their range, home,  and put out the lightening generated fire that had already burned several thousand acres.

BLM went to the local sheriff's department and asked them to investigate Steve Hammond for arson. The sheriff investigated and referred the case to the local District Attorney's Office, and the DA's office refused to file a case based on insufficient evidence to indicate that a crime had been committed.

In 2011 these (old) incidents were filed by BLM with the United States Attorney, which alleged "terrorism" against both Dwight and Steven Hammond. The federal government's argument included their allegation that the fires had been started to cover up poaching activity -- though how that translates to "terrorism", mystifies me. 

In June 2012, they were both convicted. Even though the terrorism law prescribed a minimum sentence of five years the judge cited the Eighth Amendment and gave Dwight three months and Steven twelve. They began serving their sentences January 4, 2013. Dwight was released in March 2013 and Steven in January 2014.
Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
BLM appealed the sentence to the Ninth District Court of Appeals, requesting that the Hammond brothers be remanded to federal custody again to serve out the entire five-year sentence. The Ninth Circuit agreed and the Hammonds reported to the Federal Prison at Terminal Island, California this afternoon to serve out their sentences. The court further ordered the Hammonds to sign a stipulation that BLM has right of first refusal in any sale. In other words, if they ever sell the ranch, they will have to sell it to the US Government.

Furthermore, the Hammonds were ordered by the court to pay $200,000 to BLM forthwith for past grazing fees or to sell the ranch to the US. Government to settle their debt.

As a result of this conduct on the part of the US Government, people have broken the law by occupying the (formerly empty) office of the M-NWR to protest the government's actions.

To YOU the jury:

Is protest against government actions in this case warranted?

A Few Thoughts

Because the protest is underway and because the Federal Bureau of Investigation (sometimes referred to by these protesters as the "Federal Bureau of Intimidation") is now charged with breaking up the protest, "Nothing to see here, move along," there is the possibility of a spark that will cause other and potentially more violent behavior.

I have confidence that the FBI does not want a fight. I am also confident that there are people with an axe to grind against the feds who do want a fight.

The Hammond Family owes $400,000 for grazing, of which $200,000 is due now. That's not in dispute. The Hammond family knew the fees involved and grazed their cattle on BLM land. The default requirement that they sell to the Federal Government makes the whole thing stink to high heaven.

I have not read the Federal Government's case for charging the Hammonds with "terrorism", but based on what I have read, it's a very NARROW interpretation of the law, and it makes the whole thing look like a trumped up land grab.

More news here from Oregon Live, Fox News



13 comments:

  1. I'm torn. I despise the overreach by the federal government, and to that point the size, scope, administration, etc. of the agencies to begin with (EPA is the worst offender, but BLM and sister agencies can be right behind them at the trough).

    On the other hand, in my limited knowledge of the situation I read that the Hammonds were convicted of arson at trial, with family testifying to the facts of the arson - and served the sentence less than the mandatory minimum - and have been re-sentenced after the US Attorney appealed to the 9th Circuit which forced the mandatory minimum (which is correct under the law). I believe in mandatory minimums (which is another argument), so I would hope that the AUSAs offered something short of that before the Hammonds chose trial (that is the big unknown here). In this particular case, if the BLM is pulling generations of shenanigans (likely a fact), the criminal proceedings would require the USAO - and that is what is really disappointing.

    On the first hand again, we're back to the fact that the federal government should have a role in protecting the land - but I believe its clear they currently, and for a long time, have done a terrible job at that.

    Back to the other hand, and armed stand-off is about as dumb as it gets - but if you're going to do it - they have done it "peacefully" and it looks like the facility is part of the federal government waste (they had a weight room in what looked like empty space - I don't know the specifics, maybe its a good use, and location…but I doubt it).

    I got a call from somebody asking what I thought the response would be. I would love to be in the negotiations…but I'm not sure what side I would be on. :)

    As far as the "armed response" - I would have to recuse myself.

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    1. Armed response is absurd. Drawing attention to the situation is not. The FBI is in an impossible place, not of their making, but their mess to try and keep calm.

      Hammond (father and son) were convicted of terrorism. What sort of statute given who they are, justifies terrorism - poaching and screwing with BLM? I don't know enough. Maybe the charges are legitimate. BUT why if legit, must the family sell their ranch to BLM?

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  2. From what I read here:
    http://theconservativetreehouse.com/2016/01/03/full-story-on-whats-going-on-in-oregon-militia-take-over-malheur-national-wildlife-refuge-in-protest-to-hammond-family-persecution/
    I am leaning towards the protesters, that they have a legitimate gripe. But I also know the article is one sided and I would like to see a reasonable reason the government would and could do this.

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    1. The media just trumpets "armed militias", which is worthless. The government hasn't done much to explain its case other than to point to a trial and the 9th Circuit upholding mandatory minimums for "terrorism".

      If the government is to have credibility, its hands must be clean. It seems to me that both sides have dirty hands. We expect the incarcerated "terrorists" to be bad guys, not the government. And the FBI is now faced with supporting a wrong-hearted action, even if the agents side in principle with the Hammonds.

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  3. The government's handling of the case with the Hammonds reeks of heavy-handed petty dictatorship. The government has definitely overreached its mandate in condemning the Hammonds on charges of terrorism, which I think was done so that the case could be immediately brought into a federal court and prosecuted by federal lackeys.

    The folks who are protesting by taking over a small federal building are idiots. I am reminded of John Brown, who helped spark the Civil War by trying to start a slave revolt. The Oregon folks don't have nearly the moral standing that John Brown had and I think he was wrong for what he did.

    That said, I hope these folks will stop without resorting to violence, as I hope for government officials to find some wisdom. I am, however, cynical that either side will show wisdom.

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    1. John Brown's body lies a moldering in the grave... John Brown was terrorist. I have no problem with that verdict. But the people who are occupying the empty building are not trying to break into a federal armory (at Harper's Ferry).

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  4. "Trumped up land grab " -- sounds about right. Fort Sumter? Don't think so.

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    1. More Information from another informed blogger: http://holdingblock.blogspot.com/2015/12/fact-event-hammond-family.html?view=classic&m=1

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  5. Me the jury sayeth: Pay your past grazing permits, that's life, but you shouldn't have to sell your private land to the government - however, they'll find a way to get it. Oh look. I wouldn't call them terrorists, I think that's rather extreme. And yes, you have a right to peaceful protest.

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  6. So many errors in this blog I don't know where to start. The refuge does not surround Hammond land. The BlM did not buy severalranches for the refuge in the 1970s. The Hammonds did a land sxchange with the BLM for property on the Steens. The Hammonds received land adjacent to the refuge in the exchange. Teh water sources in contention were always on the refuge. They were originally fenced into an adjacent BLM allottment whic the hamoinds received in the excahange. The USFWS then decided to fence the refuge on the actual refuge boundary. Access to water was provied to the Hammonds. This is not a land grab. No one has forced the Hammonds to sell a single acre of land. The refuge has not added a single acre to the refuge for over 30 years. The last change in refuge ownership was the result of a land exchange one near the Narrows and the other in the lower Diamnnd Valley that took place in the late 1980s. I suggest some enterprising unbiased blogger request the annual narratives from the refuge for the past 40 years to get an accurate account of land and water issues around the refuge including issues with the Hammonds.

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    1. If you want my "errors" to be taken seriously, it would make sense to post your name and not post anonymously. I delete almost all anonymous posts because they lack CREDIBILITY. If you want your assertions to be other than those attributed to a crank, own them. Come out from whatever rock that you're hiding under.

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    2. Faceless critics. Well said, LL.

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