Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Absurdly trivial conflicts escalate to tragedy

by Thomas Mitchell

The absurdity of it all would be comical if the consequences were not so extraordinarily dire.
One man is dead, shot to death by officers at a roadblock. Father and son ranchers are in prison serving mandatory five-year terms under an antiterrorism law. Nearly two dozen others are in jail facing charges of conspiracy, impeding officers, intimidation, assault, obstruction of justice, extortion, aiding and abetting — all of which could lead to lengthy prison terms.

The root cause of all this?

Two minor grass fires that burned 140 acres of federal public land and some bureaucrat’s silly assumption that cattle might be harmful to desert tortoises. All occurring years ago, but simmering and stewing until they have reached the point of boiling over.

Somehow the situation has escalated from the trivial to the tragic because of base bullheadedness and naked intransigence on both sides.

In Oregon it ensnared the Hammond family ranchers. In Nevada it involves the Bundy family ranchers.

In 2001 the Hammonds started a fire on their own property to burn off juniper and sagebrush. The fire escaped their property and burned 139 acres of Bureau of Land Management land. The fire probably improved the land.

In 2006, lightning started several fires and the Hammonds set a back-burn fire to try to prevent the fire from spreading to their crops and buildings. That fire burned an acre of public land.

Dwight Hammond and his son Steven were charged and convicted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison, but a federal judge declared that was ludicrous and sentenced them to lesser terms, which they served.

But bullheaded BLM managers appealed and got a federal court to send the pair to prison for the full five years for accidentally burning 140 acres.

No comments: