The feds have overreached for far too long and the people aren’t going to take it anymore.
The feds, operating outside the law, are trying to jail two men without legal jurisdiction. Instead the tables turned when armed Militiamen seized their federal complex instead!
The Bundy family of Nevada joined with hard-core militiamen Saturday to take over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, vowing to occupy the remote federal outpost 50 miles southeast of Burns – pictured below – for years.
The occupation came shortly after an estimated 300 marchers – militia and local citizens both – paraded through Burns to protest the prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who are to report to prison Monday.
The story could set the stage for a western-style soap opera.
“I call it ‘as the sagebrush burns,’” said Erin Maupin of the long and storied history involving the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), special interest groups and the cattle ranchers on the Steens Mountain of Oregon.
The latest scene involved two ranchers being sentenced to five years in federal prison for inadvertantly burning about 140 acres of BLM rangeland in two separate fires, years ago. That is an area big enough to feed about three cow-calf pairs for a year in that neck of the woods.
Dwight, 73 and son Steven, 46, admitted in a 2012 court case, to lighting two different fires. Both fires started on Hammonds’ private property. An August lightening storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires. Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several “back fires” in an attempt to save the ranch’s winter feed. The “back burn” fire break worked and protected the Hammond’s ranch. BLM firefighters saw the back-burn and called it into their headquarters as an “arson.”
Sadly, wind drove the back-burn onto federal land, on which the Hammonds paid for grazing rights. Despite this, the US Attorney for Oregon prosecuted the two men, saying they committed arson against federal property along with nine other charges. The jury convicted the men of only two charges, starting the fires they readily admitted to starting.
Arson against federal property calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years prison. The Hammonds argued that such minimum mandatory sentences were unconstitutional and a judge agreed. He sentenced the two men to LESS than the five years. Not satisfied, the US Attorney appealed and the Ninth US Circuit ordered the District Court to re-sentence the men in accordance with the statute.
The first, in 2001, was a planned burn on Hammonds’ own property to reduce juniper trees that have become invasive in that part of the country. That fire burned outside the Hammonds’ private property line and took in 138 acres of unfenced BLM land before the Hammonds got it put out. No BLM firefighters were needed to help extinguish the fire and no fences were damaged.
Dwight’s wife Susan shared some crucial details in an exclusive interview with SuperStation95.
“They called and got permission to light the fire,” she said, adding that was customary for ranchers conducting range management burns – a common practice in the area.
“We usually called the interagency fire outfit – a main dispatch – to be sure someone wasn’t in the way or that weather would be a problem.” Susan said her son Steven was told that the BLM was conducting a burn of their own somewhere in the region that very same day, but that they believed there would be no problem with the Hammonds going ahead with their planned fire. The court transcript includes the same information in a recording from that phone conversation.
In cross-examination of a prosecution witness, the court transcript also includes admission from Mr. Ward, a range conservationist that the 2001 fire improved the rangeland conditions on BLM.
Maupin, a former range technician and watershed specialist who resigned from the BLM in 1999, said that collaborative burns between private ranchers and the BLM had become popular in the late 1990s because local university extension researchers were recommending it as a means to manage invasive juniper that steal water from grass and other cover.
“Juniper encroachment had become an issue on the forefront and was starting to come to a head. We were trying to figure out how to deal with it on a large scale,” said the woman whose family also neighbored the Hammonds for a couple of years.
“In 1999, the BLM started to try to do large scale burn projects. We started to be successful on the Steens Mountain especially when we started to do it on a large watershed scale as opposed to trying to follow property lines.”
Read more: Super Station 95