A twist in the Malheur story: Ranchers grazing permit revoked

'When ranchers break the law and abuse public lands, they should lose their grazing permit every time'

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A judge on Friday revoked the grazing permit of two ranchers who were pardoned last year by President Donald Trump on an arson conviction for setting fire to federal lands. 

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ruled in the long-running case after hearing arguments from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which granted a 10-year grazing permit to Dwight and Steven Hammond after Trump's July 2018 pardon. The renewal prompted a coalition of environmental groups to sue. 

Simon in July limited where the Hammonds could graze their cattle, but let them continue to use other portions of the public allotments for their ranching operation in remote southeastern Oregon while the environmental groups continued with their legal challenge. 

In his ruling Simon said then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's decision to restore the Hammonds' permits was "'arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, not rationally connected to the facts.''

The Hammonds, a father and son who raise cattle near Diamond, Oregon, were convicted of arson in 2012 for setting a fire on federal land that burned about 140 acres. They were initially sentenced to minimal terms and released. But the Hammonds were sent back to prison in 2016 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they complete the federal mandatory minimum sentence of five years for arson. 

Their rearrest sparked a protest that developed into a 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, led by two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The standoff got international attention and ended shortly after authorities fatally shot the protesters' spokesman as a small group of the occupiers drove to a meeting. 

The Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians filed a motion earlier this year to revoke the Hammonds' grazing permits. They said that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should not have granted the permits because of the Hammonds' conviction. 

"When ranchers break the law and abuse public lands, they should lose their grazing permit every time," Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a statement. 

During their 2012 arson trial, the Hammonds said they burned the federal lands to destroy invasive weeds. Prosecutors said they burned the land to cover up the fact that they had illegally killed a herd of deer.

Comments