Trump Restores Grazing Rights to Men Convicted — and Pardoned — of Arson

In its final moments Wednesday, the Trump administration granted two 10-year grazing permits to the father-son duo whose convictions and imprisonment for setting fires on public lands gave rise to the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon. 

FILE – In this July 11, 2018, file photo, rancher Dwight Hammond Jr., left, is embraced by his wife, Susie Hammond, after arriving by private jet at the Burns Municipal Airport in Burns, Ore. Hammond and his son Steven, convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land in Oregon, were pardoned by President Donald Trump. The outgoing Trump administration has awarded grazing allotments to the Hammonds, whose case sparked the takeover of a federal wildlife refuge by right-wing extremists in 2016. (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP, File)

(CN) — Just hours before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the Trump administration restored grazing permits to Dwight and Steven Hammond for 10 years, after the Hammonds lost those permits after having been convicted for arson on public lands in 2002.

The father and son served three months and 13 months, respectively, before being released. The Ninth Circuit later ordered them to serve their full five-year sentences.

Their return to prison in January 2016 prompted a group of far-right extremists led by Ammon Bundy — fresh off a tense armed standoff with federal law enforcement officials at his father’s Nevada ranch in 2016 — to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for 41 days.

A jury acquitted Bundy and his brother Ryan of charges related to the takeover, and then-President Donald Trump pardoned both Hammonds in 2018, ensuring they would not serve their full five-year sentences. 

The Hammond family released a statement via their lawyer thanking the public for their support. 

“The Hammond family wishes to extend their sincerest appreciation and thanks to the many individuals and organizations who have supported them, their livelihood and the agricultural industry as a whole,” the family said. “They look forward to helping manage the natural resources in a responsible and productive manner.”

The Hammonds rejected the support of the Bundys and other occupiers during the standoff. One of Bundy’s cohorts, Robert Lavoy Finicum, was shot and killed by federal law enforcement after he reached for a handgun in his pocket during an attempt to arrest him. Seven of the other militants served prison time for their role in the occupation. 

The BLM is required to evaluate permittees like the Hammonds, including whether they have been good stewards of the land and have complied with past grazing permits. 

Environmental organizations in Oregon continue to argue the Hammonds have not been compliant nor have they performed their roles as capable stewards of natural resources. 

“It’s corruption, down to the fact that they raced through the weekend to get this rubber-stamped before the inauguration,” said Western Watersheds Project in a statement. 

It is unclear whether the Biden administration will honor the eleventh-hour approval by the BLM, or whether the legal hurdles of undoing the permit awards would prove too cumbersome for a reversal. 

Many pundits have compared the takeover of the Malheur refuge to the recent events at the U.S. Capitol riots as examples of the growing threat of right-wing extremism in the United States. 

Costs of the occupation ran to as much as $3.3 million, due to vandalism of the refuge facilities, police time and shuttered schools in the area. 

The FBI agent who shot and killed Finicum was indicted for lying about the circumstances surrounding the shooting but was eventually acquitted. 

The agent still faces a wrongful death civil suit brought by Finicum’s family.

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