Environmental groups sue BLM to block renewal of grazing permit for Hammond RanchesINJOINHAMMONDSSUIT
Three environmental advocacy groups Monday filed suit to block the renewal of a 10-year grazing permit for Hammond Ranches Inc., run by Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond.
Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Pendleton against the interior secretary, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the district manager of the land bureau’s Burns District office.
The three groups argue that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s renewal of the grazing permit after the Hammonds were issued pardons violated federal administrative regulations because it failed to consider the Hammonds’ unsatisfactory record.
The groups contend the father and son’s cattle-grazing record violated regulations set by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Department of Interior and that the new permit didn’t undergo proper environmental assessments.
They contend the renewed grazing will harm sage-grouse habitats in the region and increase invasive weeds and the likelihood of destructive fires.
On Jan. 29, Zinke ordered the permit renewal for Hammond Ranches Inc. to last through 2024.
In February 2014, the federal agency rejected the Hammonds’ renewal application, citing their criminal convictions for setting fire to public land.
They were convicted in 2012 of arson on Harney County land where they had grazing rights for their cattle. They were ordered back to prison in early 2016 to serve out five-year sentences in a case that incited right-wing militias and inspired the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the Hammond family ranch.
But on July 10, the Trump administration pardoned the father and son.
The complaint filed Monday says that the Hammonds, between 2001 and 2006, engaged in a pattern of setting fires on the public lands to remove sagebrush and juniper and increase forage for their cattle that endangered firefighters and members of the public.
“It’s appalling to watch the Trump administration make up the rules as they go along,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve seen this type of lawlessness infect all aspects of public lands management under Trump, and we’re going to fight it. The public lands at stake are important sage-grouse habitat, highly vulnerable to invasive species, and are just beginning to recover.”
The suit is filed against David Bernhardt, current interior secretary, and Jeffrey Rose, district manager of the the BLM’s Burns District office.
After she was informed of the lawsuit Monday, Susie Hammond, wife of Dwight Hammond Jr. and mother to Steven Hammond, said of the plaintiffs suing, “I don’t know what they know that the president of the United States and the head of the BLM doesn’t know.’’
Both Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of setting a fire in 2001, and the son was convicted of setting a second fire in 2006. Dwight Hammond Jr. set a prescribed burn on about 300 acres of his own land that then traveled onto Bureau of Land Management property and burned an additional 139 acres, his lawyer wrote in a petition for clemency. The elder Hammond said he was trying to fend off invasive species. Prosecutors argued the fire also was to cover up illegal deer poaching and got out of control, placing firefighters who had to be airlifted out of the area in grave danger.
Susie and Dwight Hammond bought their ranch in 1964. Hammond Ranches Inc. has operated on a combination of private and public land — 12,872 acres of deeded territory and another 26,421 acres on grazing allotments — before the federal government curtailed its permits.