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Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Whose Case Sparked Malheur Takeover

Father-and-son Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, sent to prison for arson on public land, received full pardons from President Trump on Tuesday, more than halfway through their five-year sentence. Farm groups applauded the decision while the Center for Western Priorities said that Trump “has once again sided with lawless extremists.”

The case sparked the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, in southeastern Oregon. The 41-day takeover inflamed the long-simmering dispute over federal control of large portions of the West. Ammon Bundy, part of a Nevada family that led a 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights, was a leader of the Malheur takeover. Activists want the federal government to cede land to the states and accuse the government of regulatory over-reach and meddling in the Western way of life.

Tensions have subsided since the 2016 takeover. Rural America voted heavily for Trump, who promised regulatory relief. As president, he ordered a scaling back of the size of national monuments.

Dwight and Steven Hammond walked out of federal prison in California several hours after Trump issued the pardons, said the Portland Oregonian. “Trump’s move marks yet another big victory for backers of the Hammonds, including Ammon Bundy and his followers who repeatedly cited the case as the trigger for the 41-day occupation of the wildlife refuge that abuts the Hammond family ranch.”

A Hammond family statement said the pardons should “help signal the need for a more measured and just approach by federal agents, federal officers, and federal prosecutors – in all that they do,” reported the Oregonian. An array of community leaders supported the pardons.

“Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of executive clemency,” said a White House statement that blamed the Obama administration for “an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison.” The White House said the men were imprisoned for “a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land.” Other accounts say 139 acres of federal land was burned.

The Western Values Project, based in Montana, said the pardons would embolden “antipublic land zealots” and signal to Interior Department employees “who face serious threats from antigovernment extremists like the Hammonds that the administration does not have their backs.” The Center for Western Priorities, based in Colorado, agreed, saying, “Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers.”

But the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farm group, said the president showed “there is still hope for justice in environmental law enforcement…The fire spread farther than it should have and consumed more than 100 acres of federal grazing land, but that hardly makes the Hammonds criminals.” Said the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, “No rancher undertaking normal agricultural practices should fear spending years in jail at the hands of the federal government.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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