Trump gives permit to ranchers whose case led to occupation

Ranching Standoff-Grazing Permit

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the final days of the Trump administration issued a grazing permit to Oregon ranchers whose imprisonment sparked the 2016 armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge by right-wing extremists.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s restored Dwight and Steven Hammond’s grazing permit earlier this week, which lasts for 10 years, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The father and son had their permit revoked after a jury convicted them in 2012 of arson on public lands a decade earlier. The men went to prison, served time and were released, but the U.S. Department of Justice later ordered them back to prison to finish the mandatory minimum five-year sentence.

That kicked off the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which is 300 miles (483 kilometers) southeast of Portland. The Oregon State Police fatally shot one occupier, saying he reached for a pistol at a roadblock.

The leaders of the takeover, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and five others were later acquitted of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the refuge.

In 2018, Then-President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds, allowing them to be freed from federal prison.

In a proposal to grant the Hammonds grazing rights on Dec. 31, the land agency said Hammond Ranches should be allowed to graze their cattle on about 26,000 acres (10,522 hectares) in the high desert of eastern Oregon.

The federal agency cited the Hammonds’ “extensive historic use of these allotments, past proper use of rangeland resources, a high level of general need, and advantages conferred by topography.”

In 2014, when Barack Obama was president, the agency denied Hammond Ranches a renewal of its grazing permit, saying the business “does not have a satisfactory record of performance” and cited numerous incidents of arson.

At the father and son's trial, witnesses testified that a 2001 arson fire occurred after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered deer on federal property. One said Steven, the younger of the Hammonds, handed out matches with instructions to “light up the whole country.” The jury also convicted him of setting a 2006 blaze.

Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians have said they would protest the decision to grant the Hammonds a grazing permit.