Oregon Ranchers Drew Heavy Support

Oregon Farm Leaders Back Jailed Ranchers, But Oppose Takeover of Wildlife Refuge

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The armed protest at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Harney County, Oregon, are a little over 300 miles southeast of Portland. (Graphic courtesy of Google Maps)

OMAHA (DTN) -- While Barry Bushue is getting ready for a weekend of retail politicking at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention, the Oregon Farm Bureau president is dealing with issues revolving around the standoff at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Some of Oregon's leading farm and cattlemen's groups strongly support the two ranchers who reported to federal prison on Monday and want them freed from custody. But the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and Oregon Cattlemen's Association don't support the armed incursion at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The two ranchers, 73-year-old Dwight Hammond, and his son, 46-year-old Steve Hammond, have been active members of both the Farm Bureau and the cattlemen's association. Bushue is among those frustrated that federal prosecutors appealed the initial sentence against the Hammonds and pursued arson charges and stiffer penalties against the ranchers under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

"The Hammonds have been long-time Farm Bureau members. They even served on our board. These are people who have been persecuted beyond belief by an overzealous federal agency," Bushue said in a phone interview with DTN on Tuesday.

He added, "Our goal, however, as an organization is to continue to provide moral support with the family, but keeping with the good intents and the discussions we have had, not only with our membership but the ranch families of Harney County, is to try to look at some type of solution at the federal level to make sure the anti-terrorism act is never used against another rancher trying to protect their farms and ranches."

Bushue, who serves as vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is one of four Farm Bureau candidates seeking to take over as national president in a delegate vote that will happen next Tuesday at the annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

As part of Farm Bureau's delegate session, the Oregon and Utah Farm Bureau delegates will bring forward a resolution pushing to prevent ranchers who lease federal lands from facing such stiff criminal punishment.

Despite considering the Hammonds' sentences as gross government overreach, Bushue said Farm Bureau doesn't support the takeover of the wildlife refuge.

"We're going to work through the normal legislative and congressional channels to find a solution," Bushue said. "The Hammonds have not supported what is going on at the refuge and our organization doesn't either."

Bushue did say there were legitimate concerns with the way the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management has overseen grazing permits. Bushue said BLM rules have led to a significant reduction in the number of animals grazing on federal lands in Western states in recent years.

"There is a systematic reduction of livestock production in the Western states through reduction and denial of permits," Bushue said. "Clearly these lands were meant for broad-based use and we're going to do whatever we can to protect the livestock industry from this devaluation of the importance of production techniques that we use."

The Hammonds had battles with BLM going back to the 1990s over issues such as fires either started on or which spread into BLM lands. The father and son were indicted after a 2006 fire and convicted in 2012 of maliciously damaging real property of the U.S. At sentencing, the federal judge in the case found that the guidelines range for Steve was eight to 14 months and for Dwight was zero to six months. But the law mandated five-year minimum sentences, so prosecutors appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which vacated the original sentences.

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association also has defended the Hammonds, including creating a White House petition calling for their release. But the cattlemen's association also stated in a news release that the group does not support the takeover of the wildlife refuge.

"The community of Burns and the ranchers there have been very resourceful in working together with agencies on many wildlife issues," John O'Keeffe, president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, said in a statement. "Furthermore, OCA does not support illegal activity taken against the government. This includes militia takeover of government property, such as the Malheur Wildlife Refuge."

O'Keeffe added the cattlemen's group has posted an online petition asking the White House to commute the sentences for the Hammonds. "In addition to clemency efforts, we are working through legal avenues to help the Hammonds get their BLM grazing permits restored," O'Keeffe said.

A link to the White House petition to free the Hammonds: http://dld.bz/…

Dec. 31 Portland Oregonian article on the ranchers: http://dld.bz/…

Ninth Circuit ruling: http://dld.bz/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG/CZ)

Chris Clayton