Many people will awaken today to the news of approximately 100 to 150 armed militia taking control of a closed Wildlife Park Headquarters, and not know the full back-story – so here it is:
The short summary is: in an effort to draw attention to a ridiculous arrest of a father and son pair of Oregon Ranchers (“Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46,) who are scheduled to begin five year prison sentences (turning themselves in tomorrow January 4th 2016), three brothers from the Cliven Bundy family and approximately 100/150 (and growing) armed militia (former U.S. service members) have taken control of Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in the wildlife reserve. They are prepared to stay there indefinitely.
Here’s the long version: including history, details, links, video(s) and explanations:
HISTORY: (aa) The Harney Basin (where the Hammond ranch is established) was settled in the 1870’s. The valley was settled by multiple ranchers and was known to have run over 300,000 head of cattle. These ranchers developed a state of the art irrigated system to water the meadows, and it soon became a favorite stopping place for migrating birds on their annual trek north.
(ab) In 1908 President Theodor Roosevelt, in a political scheme, create an “Indian reservation” around the Malheur, Mud & Harney Lakes and declared it “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds”. Later this “Indian reservation” (without Indians) became the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
(a) In 1964 the Hammonds’ purchased their ranch in the Harney Basin. The purchase included approximately 6000 acres of private property, 4 grazing rights on public land, a small ranch house and 3 water rights. The ranch is around 53 miles South of Burns, Oregon.
(a1) By the 1970’s nearly all the ranches adjacent to the Blitzen Valley were purchased by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and added to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge covers over 187,000 acres, stretches over 45 miles long and 37 miles wide. The expansion of the refuge grew and surrounds to the Hammond’s ranch. Approached many times by the FWS, the Hammonds refused to sell. Other ranchers also choose not to sell.
(a2) During the 1970’s the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), took a different approach to get the ranchers to sell. Ranchers were told: “grazing was detrimental to wildlife and must be reduced”; 32 out of 53 permits were revoked and many ranchers were forced to leave. Grazing fees were raised significantly for those who were allowed to remain. Refuge personnel took over the irrigation system claiming it as their own.
(a3) By 1980 a conflict was well on its way over water allocations on the adjacent privately owned Silvies Plain. The FWS wanted to acquire the ranch lands on the Silvies Plain to add to their already vast holdings. Refuge personnel intentionally diverted the water bypassing the vast meadow lands, directing the water into the rising Malheur Lakes. Within a few short years the surface area of the lakes doubled. Thirty-one ranches on the Silvies plains were flooded. Homes, corrals, barns and graze-land were washed a way and destroyed. The ranchers who once fought to keep the FWS from taking their land, now broke and destroyed, begged the FWS to acquire their useless ranches. In 1989 the waters began to recede; now the once thriving privately owned Silvies plains are a proud part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge claimed by the FWS.
(a4) By the 1990’s the Hammonds were one of the very few ranchers who still owned private property adjacent to the refuge. Susie Hammond in an effort to make sense of what was going on began compiling facts about the refuge. In a hidden public record she found a study done by the FWS in 1975. The study showed the “no use” policies of the FWS on the refuge were causing the wildlife to leave the refuge and move to private property. The study showed the private property adjacent to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge produced four times more ducks and geese than the refuge. The study also showed the migrating birds were 13 times more likely to land on private property than on the refuge. When Susie brought this to the attention of the FWS and refuge personnel, her and her family became the subjects of a long train of abuses and corruptions.
(b) In the early 1990’s the Hammonds filed on a livestock water source and obtained a deed for the water right from the State of Oregon. When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found out the Hammonds obtained new water rights near the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge, they were agitated and became belligerent and vindictive toward the Hammonds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service challenged the Hammonds right to the water in an Oregon State Circuit Court. The court found the Hammonds legally obtained rights to the water in accordance to State law and therefore the use of the water belongs to the Hammonds.*
(c) In August 1994 the BLM & FWS illegally began building a fence around the Hammonds water source. Owning the water rights, and knowing that their cattle relied on that water source daily, the Hammonds tried to stop the building of the fence. The BLM & FWS called the Harney County Sheriff department and had Dwight Hammond (Father) arrested and charged with “disturbing and interfering with” federal officials or federal contractors (two counts, each a felony). Dwight spent one night in the Deschutes County Jail in Bend, and a second night behind bars in Portland. He was then hauled before a federal magistrate and released without bail. A hearing on the charges was postponed and the federal judge never set another date.
(d) The FWS also began restricting access to upper pieces of the Hammond’s private property. In order to get to the upper part of the Hammond’s ranch they had to go on a road that went through the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge. The FWS began barricading the road and threatening the Hammonds if they drove through it. The Hammonds removed the barricades and gates and continued to use their right of access. The road was proven later to be owned by the County of Harney. This further enraged the BLM & FWS.
(e) Shortly after the road & water disputes, the BLM & FWS arbitrarily revoked the Hammond’s upper grazing permit without any given cause, court proceeding or court ruling. As a traditional “fence out state” Oregon requires no obligation on the part of an owner to keep his or her livestock within a fence or to maintain control over the movement of the livestock. The Hammonds still intended to use their private property for grazing. However, they were informed a federal judge ruled, in a federal court, the federal government did not have to observe the Oregon fence out law. “Those laws are for the people, not for them”.
(f) The Hammonds were forced to either build and maintain miles of fences or be restricted from the use of their private property. Cutting their ranch in almost half, they could not afford to fence the land, so the cattle were removed.
(g) The Hammonds experienced many years of financial hardship due to the ranch being diminished. The Hammonds had to sell their ranch and home in order to purchase another property that had enough grass to feed their cattle. This property included two grazing rights on public land. Those were also arbitrarily revoked later.
(h) The owner of the Hammond’s original ranch passed away from a heart attack and the Hammonds made a trade for the ranch back.
(i) In the early fall of 2001, Steven Hammond (Son) called the fire department, informing them that he was going to be performing a routine prescribed burn on their ranch. Later that day he started a prescribed fire on their private property. The fire went onto public land and burned 127 acres of grass. The Hammonds put the fire out themselves. There was no communication about the burn from the federal government to the Hammonds at that time. Prescribed fires are a common method that Native Americans and ranchers have used in the area to increase the health & productivity of the land for many centuries.
(j) In 2006 a massive lightning storm started multiple fires that joined together inflaming the countryside. To prevent the fire from destroying their winter range and possibly their home, Steven Hammond (Son) started a backfire on their private property. The backfire was successful in putting out the lightning fires that had covered thousands of acres within a short period of time. The backfire saved much of the range and vegetation needed to feed the cattle through the winter. Steven’s mother, Susan Hammond said: “The backfire worked perfectly, it put out the fire, saved the range and possibly our home”.
(j1) The next day federal agents went to the Harney County Sheriff’s office and filled a police report making accusation against Dwight and Steven Hammond for starting the backfire. A few days after the backfire a Range-Con from the Burns District BLM office asked Steven if he would meet him in town (Frenchglen) for coffee. Steven accepted. When leaving he was arrested by the Harney County Sheriff Dave Glerup and BLM Ranger Orr. Sheriff Glerup then ordered him to go to the ranch and bring back his father. Both Dwight and Steven were booked and on multiple Oregon State charges. The Harney County District Attorney reviewed the accusation, evidence and charges, and determined the accusations against Dwight & Steven Hammond did not warrant prosecution and dropped all the charges.
(k) In 2011, 5 years after the police report was taken, the U.S. Attorney Office accused Dwight and Steven Hammond of completely different charges; they accused them of being “Terrorists” under the Federal Anti terrorism Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This act carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of death. Dwight & Steven’s mug shots were all over the news the next week posing them as “Arsonists”. Susan Hammond (Wife & Mother) said: “I would walk down the street or go in a store, people I had known for years would take extreme measures to avoid me”.
(l) Shortly after the sentencing, Capital Press ran a story about the Hammonds. A person who identified as Greg Allum posted three comments on the article, calling the ranchers “clowns” who endangered firefighters and other people in the area while burning valuable range land. Greg Allum, a retired BLM heavy equipment operator, soon called Capital Press to complain he had not made those comments and requested they be taken down from the website. Capital Press removed the comments. A search of the Internet Protocol address associated with the comments revealed the origin as the BLM’s office in Denver, Colorado. Allum said, he is friends with the Hammonds and he was alerted to the comments by neighbors who knew he wouldn’t have written them. “I feel bad for them. They lost a lot and they’re going to lose more,” Allum said of the ranchers. “They’re not terrorists”. “There’s this hatred in the BLM for them, and I don’t get it,” the retired BLM employee said. Jody Weil, deputy state director for communications at BLM’s Oregon office, indicated to reporters that if one of their agents falsified the comments, they would keep it private and not inform the public.
(m) In September 2006, Dwight & Susan Hammond’s home was raided. The agents informed the Hammonds they were looking for evidence that would connect them to the fires. The Hammonds later found out a boot print and a tire tracks were found near one of the many fires. No matching boots or tires were found in the Hammonds home or on their property. Susan Hammond (Wife) later said; ” I have never felt so violated in my life. We are ranchers not criminals”. Steven Hammond openly maintains his testimony that he started the backfire to save the winter grass from being destroyed and the backfire ended up working so well it put out the fire altogether.
(n) During the trial proceedings, Federal Court Judge Michael Hogan did not allow time for certain testimonies and evidence into the trail which would exonerate the Hammonds. Federal prosecuting attorney, Frank Papagni, was given full access for six days. He had ample time to use any evidence or testimony that strengthened the demonization of the Hammonds. The Hammonds attorney was only allowed 1 day. Many of the facts about the fires, land and why the Hammonds acted the way they did was not allowed into the proceedings and was not heard by the jury. Example: Judge Hogan did not allow time for the jury to hear or review certified scientific findings the fires improved the health and productivity of the land. Or, that the Hammonds had been subject to vindictive behavior by multiple federal agencies for years.
(o) Federal attorneys, Frank Papagni, hunted down a witness who was not mentally capable to be credible. Dusty Hammond (grandson and nephew) testified that Steven told him to start a fire. He was 13-years-old at the time, and 24-years-old when he testified (11 years later). At 24 Dusty had been suffering with mental problems for many years. He had estranged his family including his mother. Judge Hogan noted that Dusty’s memories as a 13-year-old boy were not clear or credible. However, Judge Hogan allowed the prosecution to continually use Dusty’s testimony. When speaking to the Hammonds about this testimony, they understood Dusty was manipulated and expressed nothing but love for their troubled grandson.
(p) Judge Michael Hogan & Frank Papagni tampered with the jury many times throughout the proceedings, including during the selection process. Hogan & Papagni only allowed people on the jury who did not understand the customs and culture of the ranchers or how land is used and cared for in the Diamond Valley. All of the jurors had to drive back and forth to Pendleton every day. Some drove more than two hours each way. By day 8 they were exhausted and expressed desires to be home.
On the final day, Judge Hogan kept pushing them to make a verdict. [Several times during deliberation, Judge Hogan pushed them to make a decision.] Judge Hogan also would not allow the jury to hear what punishment could be imposed upon an individual convicted as a terrorist under the 1996 act. The jury, not understanding the customs and cultures of the area and influenced by the prosecutors for six straight days, very exhausted, pushed for a verdict by the judge, unaware of the ramification of convicting someone as a terrorist, gave a verdict and went home.
(q) June 22, 2012, Dwight and Steven were found guilty of starting both the 2001 and the 2006 fires by the jury. However, the federal courts convicted them both as “Terrorists” under the 1996 Anti terrorism Act. Judge Hogan sentenced Dwight (Father) to 3 months in prison and Steven (son) to 12 months in federal prison. Both were also stipulated to pay $400,000 to the BLM. Judge Hogan overruling the minimum terrorist sentence, commented if the full five years were required it would be a violation of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment). The day of the sentencing Judge Hogan retired as a federal judge. In his honor the staff served chocolate cake in the courtroom.
(r) On January 4, 2013, Dwight and Steven reported to prison. They fulfilled their sentences, (Dwight 3 months, Steven 12 months). Dwight was released in March 2013 and Steven, January 2014.
(s) Sometime in June 2014, Rhonda Karges, Field Manager for the BLM, and her husband Chad Karges, Refuge Manager for the Malheur Wildlife Refuge (which surrounds the Hammond ranch), along with attorney Frank Papagni exemplified further vindictive behavior by filing an appeal with the 9th District Federal Court seeking Dwight’s and Steven’s return to federal prison for the entire 5 years.*
(t) In October 2015, the 9th District Court “re-sentenced” Dwight and Steven, requiring them to return to prison for several more years. Steven (46) has a wife and 3 children. Dwight (74) will leave Susan (74) to be alone after 55 years of marriage. If he survives, he will be 79 when he is released.
(u) During the court preceding the Hammonds were forced to grant the BLM first right of refusal; if the Hammonds ever sold their ranch they would have to sell it to the BLM.
(v) Dwight and Steven are ordered to report to federal prison again on January 4th, 2016 to begin their re-sentencing. Both their wives will have to manage the ranch for several years without them.
To date the Hammonds have paid $200,000 to the BLM, and the remainder $200,000 must be paid before the end of year (2015). If the Hammonds cannot pay the fines to the BLM, they will be forced to sell the ranch to the BLM or face further prosecution. (more citations here)