A Burning Double Standard

There’s a distinct chance that if you haven’t been living under a rock and you looked at the news this week you’ve heard about an armed standoff going on in Oregon between the BLM and a militia group over the treatment of the Hammond family. And if you have been living under a rock, surprise! Armed standoff time!

Really, come out from under that rock. It’s cold outside and rocks are poor insulation.

Because there are a gazillion factors going on with this situation, I thought I’d read about it for an extra day before doing a blog post over it. It seems that two ranchers have admitted to and been convicted of starting fires that burned 140 acres BLM land, which means they needed to serve prison time. They had already served what was required by the judge that ruled on the case initially, however, they have been ordered back to prison by the appellate court because that court felt the sentences did not meet the minimum required by law.

For those who don’t deal with Western ranching, there is a lot of confusing parts here. What is the BLM? Why were these fires started? In addition, there are some perspectives that are lost if you haven’t visited eastern Oregon. For the first question, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the government agency the oversees lands owned by the federal government. BLM land is rented to ranchers for cattle grazing at low rates, however, most BLM land is fairly worthless for grazing. Consequently, it takes 40 acres of land just to have enough grazing for one cow.

Joe and I in eastern Oregon

My brother Joe Bob and I in eastern Oregon a few years ago. We followed the Oregon Trail from Kearney, Nebraska, to Oregon City, Oregon. This is BLM land and as you can see, it is crappy grazing.

It is obvious from reading that the BLM and the Hammonds were not friends before the fire incident. The Hammonds sued the BLM twice for separate issues and won both lawsuits. Whether this had any influence on these events is unclear, however, what is known is the Hammonds started two fires on their own property that spread to BLM lands. The first one was to clear invasive weeds (which is something that is very common in ranching, as I wrote about last year), the other was a back-burn to prevent a wildfire on BLM lands from destroying their feed sources. Because both spread to BLM lands and burned 140 acres (which considering how worthless an acre is out there means it didn’t do too much) they were prosecuted under Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. They were charged on nine counts, but only convicted for these two fires they admitted to starting.

Now this is what is concerning to me and all people who use fire as a management tool: if something out of our control causes a tiny bit of federal land to burn (be it a wind shift, a stray ember, or whatnot), we now can be prosecuted as terrorists and end up with five years in federal prison? The BLM claims there is more to the story, that the first fire was used to cover up poaching, but the Hammonds weren’t convicted of poaching. Unless this suddenly became Soviet Russia instead of the U.S.A., people are innocent unless they are proven guilty. The Hammonds have not been convicted of poaching, therefore claiming it was a cover-up is meaningless without a conviction.

I’m not the only person alarmed by this situation. The Oregon Farm Bureau is also concerned, and issued a press statement condemning the BLM’s actions. Is anyone who ranches near public land, even if they do not lease it, at risk of the same fate?

What is more frustrating is when the government makes a similar mistake they do not have the same consequence. In April of 2013, a Forest Service prescribed burn near Lemmon, South Dakota, got out of control and burned 11,000 acres of both public and private land. No restitution was paid to the ranchers who lost forage and fences, and no one went to prison.

I wish I could explain more about this situation, however, through what I could research this was all I know. It is unsettling, and considering the government’s attempted land grab with the Waters of the United States proposal, anyone who makes a living from the land has a reason to be quite nervous. And while I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to start an armed standoff over this issue, I wonder if the Bundy brothers hadn’t stepped in, would anyone have know what was happening to the Hammonds?


Photo credit: http://ww2.valdosta.edu/~ibhuntington/u3a2, and I highly suggest you look at this page because it is quite funny.


21 responses to “A Burning Double Standard

  1. This past year in Oregon the BLM also let wild fires burn out of control, actually stopped them from being fought and private ground was burned in Northeastern Oregon. The government takes no blame however for the losses to others or the loss of BLM ground grazing areas. Please check out facts before using this info, but I guarentee you it happened. Near Union, Wallowa and Umatilla counties.

    • I had heard this from another source. That feds let ranchers almost get a fire line contained, then stepped in, removed the ranchers and spread the fire to burn more.

  2. As Representative Walden noted in his speech to the house, the law was misused in the case of the Hammonds and the law needs to be changed. The Bundy family will do more to promote the preservanist agenda than the sage grouse. They will turn public opinion against ranchers protraying ranchers as armed insurrectionists

  3. Harney County rancher Gary Miller, and several of his neighbors, are also victims of BLM negligence, when fires were not contained. Many cattle and structures were lost, and ranchers were threatened with arrests by their own sherrif, if they tried to put the fires out or even try to keep them from approaching their personal property. It was feared that the town of Frenchglen would burn. BLM did nothing to contain the fires or act in defense of the residents there.

  4. Blm federal government for the people there so pose to work for the people when did the federal government start using the American people as there own piggy bank we the people need to take back control of are employees the federal government if the folks we put in can’t do the job fire and get some one who can none of this bs in peach them and kick em to the curb no retirement or other benefits just dun

    • Common sense should tell you that if they had confessed to poaching they would also have been convicted of it. Most of you who are for the government’s side tells me that nothing even remotely like this has never happened to you. Just remember, tyranny walks on to the masses not only to individuals.

      • Unless you have walked along side the Hammonds and been a part of what has happened all you can do Larry is make assumptions. I’m Not on the governments side I am for common sense and Justice, As far as the tyranny I’ve spent many years in South America and have witnessed true Dictators in action. This does not even come close. Lets have all the facts and let the courts settle it. Twelve men with black rifles is not the answer.

    • Aaron Yohey…They did not confess to poaching, they confessed only to the two fires. This is why everyone is up in arms about the re-sentencing.

  5. I’m for the people. The government is wrong and they don’t want to admit it. I believe this is a cover up

  6. I’m for the people I’m for the people the government is wrong they are doing the people wrong in the United States I believe this is a cover up on the government’s part they made him mistake and don’t want admit it so there covering it up

  7. There are conflicting stories to the one you posted Doctor. First of all it is unclear as to why the fires were set. Yes, what the ranchers said, which you seem to accept at face value, was to clear weeds and/or fire prevention. What witnesses at the actual court hearing said was that they were covering their tracks after illegally hunting on the property. Only they know the truth but multiple witnesses suggest the latter. Also, when you do a burn, the fire department should be notified. When a cow needs a rumenotomy, do you recommend the rancher do it himself? I don’t know why the ranchers were prosecuted under a terrorism protocol. That is something their lawyer should have addressed right off the bat. It sounds as if there original punishment was acceptable. However, vigilantism is NEVER, i repeat never, appropriate.

  8. There is so much more to this story! My husband is from Burns Oregon and is keeping close tabs on what is happening there. This was started years ago by the govt. who wants this land. This standoff has pitted friends and family members that have stood united for generations against each other. It’s truly sad BLM! Leave the Hammonds and their livelihood alone! Find another way of making $ other than raping the land!

  9. Good piece. You should correct the wording in paragraph 5 to read, “…meaningless without a conviction.” instead of the current wording …meaningless with a conviction.”

  10. I posted this the other day and it will give you some ideas on how to handle this BLM and USFS

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