Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Here’s The Story Of The Ranchers Whose Case Sparked A Militia Standoff In Oregon

In 1994, Dwight Hammond said he was willing to die to save his ranch. He also threatened to kill the U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials who got in his way, the manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon said at the time. Hammond — who, with his son, Steven, surrendered at a federal prison on Monday — has for decades clashed with the federal land authorities who own most of the land surrounding his ranch. The disputes have long been a rallying cry for those who see the federal government as overreaching its authority over local residents and their daily lives...For the Hammond family, the situation has always been personal. “It’s our livelihood,” Dwight Hammond told CNN in 1995. “It’s our — it’s everything. It’s life itself.”...Dwight Hammond first made national headlines after he was arrested on suspicion of forcibly impeding, intimidating, and interfering with federal officers engaged in official duties. The case was later dropped. The incident stemmed from a dispute over a fence. In 1994, U.S. Fish and Wildlife began to build a fence blocking Hammond’s cattle from foraging for food and water. Authorities said a grazing permit had been revoked, but Hammond said he maintained water rights. A piece of Dwight Hammond’s farm equipment blocked the fence building, and the verbal dispute began. Forrest Cameron, who was then the manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, told the Chicago Tribune that the rancher threatened to kill him as he tried to do his job. Dwight Hammond told CNN the alleged threat may have been a misperception. “I’ve said that I was willing to die,” he said. “Maybe they’re willing to die. I don’t know.” Dwight Hammond was released from custody after pleading not guilty, and three years later, court records show the case was dismissed. Prosecutors said the family intentionally set the fires to destroy juniper and sagebrush to make way for grass and grazing.  
Though the Hammonds held grazing rights, burning the public land required approval from the government. But prosecutors alleged the family was fed up with the lengthy process of environmental study required by the Bureau of Land Management before controlled burns. The Hammonds had been ranchers for generations, defense lawyers said, working on a patchwork of private and federal land to which they held grazing rights. In the rugged, remote terrain, establishing exactly who was where at the time of a fire — as well as whether it was arson — wouldn’t be easy, defense lawyers said. A number of the charges, including witness tampering, were dismissed. Ultimately, Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of using fire to damage and destroy the property of the United States...BuzzFeed News

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