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Letter: Government must let ranchers live and work

Published on January 8, 2016 4:43PM


“Mr. President, free the Hammonds.” Thank you, East Oregonian editors, but that would only be the first step. Rep. Greg Walden said it better in a speech Jan. 6. “Hopefully the country, through this, understands we have a real problem in America, how we manage our lands and how we are losing them. … I have seen what happens when overzealous bureaucrats go beyond the law and clamp down on people.”

The Hammonds’ ranch has been enduring relentless government oppression, harassment and tyranny from overzealous bureaucrats since 1970. Why would government officials target the Hammond Ranch? The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has systematically driven virtually all the other private ranchers out of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR). All except the Hammonds.

Beginning in 1970 the BLM/FWS revoked 32 of 53 grazing permits of MNWR area ranches and significantly raised the fees of the remaining 21 permits. In 1980 there were still 31 ranchers that refused to sell their heritage. The BLM/FWS flooded their ranches, destroying their property and forcing them to sell their now worthless ranches.

In 1980 the BLM attempted to take away Hammond water rights in court and lost. The law has been changed so the government will never lose water rights court cases again. In 1994 the BLM built an illegal fence around a Hammond ranch water source. The Hammonds rightfully objected and the Harney County sheriff arrested Dwight Hammond and he spent two nights in jail. Because the BLM actions were illegal, no charges were filed. The BLM and the FWS continued their illegal attack against the Hammonds by barricading a public road that connected their ranch and revoking their grazing permits without cause or a court order. By now the Hammonds knew they would get no support from the local sheriff’s department so they had no choice but to endure the government tyranny against them. The Hammonds were next informed the “Oregon Fence Out Law” now only applied to ranchers, not the government, forcing the them to sell cattle on portions of the ranch they could not afford to fence. By the turn of the century Hammonds were the last ranchers left within the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

No matter what the BLM and FWS did the Hammonds would not yield their ranch or their heritage. That is when the BLM, FWS and local government officials came up with a brilliant plan. Use the courts and a 1996 terrorist law to arrest and convict these ranchers that refused to yield their land and heritage and use the press to brand them as arsonists. Once the Hammonds were convicted as arsonist/terrorists, the next step was to push the ranch into bankruptcy and force the Hammond to sign a right of first refusal so they have no choice except to sell their ranch to the BLM.

The arsonist charge against the Hammonds is the greatest miscarriage of justice in modern Eastern Oregon history. The Hammonds had permission from the BLM for the range improvement fire in 2001 and the BLM admitted in court the fire improved the BLM range. The government attempt to use a young disgruntled grandson to frame the Hammonds was dismissed as not credible by Judge Hogen. The 2006 backburn fire started by the Hammonds saved their land from multiple fires that were threatening their ranch. The government presented no evidence to prove that any BLM land was burned by the Hammond back fire. In contrast, there have been multiple times where BLM-started fires have destroyed private property and cattle and not once has the BLM or FWS been held accountable.

The U.S. government and local government officials need to admit they have failed to honor their constitutional responsibility and immediately work with local ranchers, loggers, farmers and citizens to restore our God-given liberty and heritage. Sheriff Ward has done nothing to aid, support or protect the Hammonds and needs to be recalled before he instigates bloodshed.

Stuart Dick

Irrigon



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