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originally posted by: TheBadCabbie
a reply to: Annee
Well I guess if railroading a ranching family qualifies as government overreach then there is nothing I can say that you will agree with.
Their trial was not a fair one. Their sentencing was needlessly harsh. They never should have been charged in the first place. That is why I think they should have been pardoned.
They were outspoken critics of what they considered to be BLM corruption, prior to the beginning of their 'legal troubles'. Their ranch also sits on or extremely close to significant uranium deposits. They're one of the last few holdouts on that range, the rest having already been run off by corrupt BLM tactics.
The first fire came in 2001: a simple prescribed burn, intended to take out invasive juniper, by Steve and Dwight Hammond's account.
But federal prosecutors said the men's real motive for starting the blaze, which consumed 139 acres and forestalled grazing for two seasons, was to cover up evidence of an illegal slaughter of deer. The government presented evidence that Steven Hammond called an emergency dispatcher to ask if it was OK to burn -- roughly two hours after they already lit the fire. His attorney said in court that Hammond called the land bureau beforehand.
The government acknowledged that the next fire, in 2006, was intended as a defensive move. Steve Hammond set backfires to keep a lightning-caused fire from burning onto the Hammonds' ranch and hitting their winter feed.
But the government said Steve Hammond lit up on the flanks of a butte, despite a countywide burn ban and the knowledge that young part-time firefighters were camped up higher. Their crew boss spotted the fires, which were set at night, and moved the crew.
How prosecutors pursued the ensuing criminal case over the two fires is what bothers Hammond supporters.
When the men were indicted in 2010 on federal arson charges, they faced sentencing under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Some Hammond backers and a host of recent social media posts translated that to mean the Hammonds were treated as terrorists.
"When you starting bringing in the terrorism act for God-fearing livestock producers in eastern Oregon, something is wrong," said Barry Bushue, a Multnomah County berry farmer and president of the Oregon Farm Bureau.
Federal prosecutors say they did no such thing.
"At no time have I ever called these two men terrorists. Never," Papagni, the federal prosecutor, said in court last October. "They committed arson."
But the five-year sentence mandated by terrorism law also concerned people. Among the critics: the federal judge who presided over the Hammonds' trial in Pendleton.
U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said at the men's original sentencing in 2012 that such a term would be unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment.
"It would be a sentence which would shock the conscience," Hogan said before sentencing Dwight to three months and Steve to one year.
Now, I am not defending armed takeovers. I do not think that is appropriate. I think the time has come for those to consider that they have made their case in the public about what is happening in the West, and perhaps it is time for them to realize they have made their case and to go home.
But I want to talk about what happened with the Hammonds. I want to put in perspective what happens almost every year in my district. That is these enormous wildfires.
The Miller Homestead Wildfire in 2012 burned 160,000 acres, mostly in this county, if not all; 250 square miles, a quarter of the size of the State of Rhode Island. That was just in 2012.
The Barry Point Fire that year, in Lake County, next door, burned 93,000 acres. Last summer alone, we burned 799,974 acres across Oregon; that is both forest and high desert. In 2012, 3.4 million acres burned in Oregon.
There was another fire in Malheur County. The Long Draw Fire, in 2012, burned 557,000 acres, five times the size of Rhode Island. So 93,000 acres, 557,000 acres, 160,000 acres, all burning.
The Hammonds are in prison tonight for setting a backfire that they admit to, that burned 139 acres, and they will sit in prison, time served and time going forward, 5 years, under a law that I would argue was never intended to mete out that kind of punishment, and I will get to that in a moment.
I have told you I worked with the Hammonds and many ranchers in Harney County. In the last years of the Clinton administration, despite their own agency's reviews and analysis, Bill Clinton threatened to create a giant monument on Steens Mountain.
When Secretary Babbitt, the Interior Secretary at the time, came before the House Resources Committee, of which I was a member, I said: Mr. Secretary, your own resource advisory committees in the area just reported that there was no need for additional protection on Steens Mountain, and yet, you and the President are threatening to create this national monument. Why do you waste the time of the citizens to go through a process to determine if additional protections are needed and then ignore what they came up with?
To Bruce Babbitt's credit, he agreed when I told him: I think you would be surprised about what the local ranchers and citizens of Harney County would be willing to do if you give them a chance. To his credit, he said: All right, I will give them that chance. And he did.
We went to work on legislation. It took a full year. I worked with the Hammonds. I worked with Stacy Davies, I worked with all kinds of folks, put a staffer on it full-time, multiple staffs, and we worked with the environmental community and others. And we created the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act, model legislation, never been done before, because I said: We don't have to live by past laws, we write laws.
So we wrote a new law to create a cooperative spirit of management in Harney County. The Hammonds were part of that discussion. We saved a running camp, Harlan Priority Runs. We protected inholder. We tried to do all the right things and create the kind of partnership and cooperation that the Federal Government and the citizens should have.
Fast forward on that particular law. Not long after that became law, and it was heralded as this monumental law of great significance and new era in cooperation and spirit of cooperation, some of those involved on the other side and some of the agencies decided to reinterpret it. The first thing they tried to do is shut down this kids' running camp because they said: Well, too many, maybe more than 20, run down this canyon and back up, as they had for many, many years. They wanted to shut it down. So we had to fight them back and said: No, the law says historical standards.
Then the bureaucrats, because we said: You should have your historical access to your private property, if you are up on Steens Mountain, you should maintain that access like you have always had it. Do you know what the bureaucrats said? They began to solicit from the inholders in this area: How many times did you go up there last year? You see, they wanted to put a noose around the neck of those who were inside. That was a total violation of what we intended, and we had to back them off.
See, the bureaucracy wants to interpret the laws we write in ways they want, and in this case they were wrong, not once, but twice.
Then, a couple of years ago, I learned that, despite the fact we created the first cow-free wilderness in the United States under this law, and said clearly in this law that it would be the responsibility of the government to put up fencing to keep the cows out, as part of the agreement, the Bureau of Land Management said: No, we are not going to follow that law. And they told the ranchers they had to build the fence.
I networked with my Democrat colleague from Oregon, Mr. DeFazio, who was part of writing this law. I said: Peter, you remember that, right? He said: Yeah, I didn't like it, but that was the case. BLM still wouldn't listen. So we continued to push it and they argued back.
Well, it turns out there had been a second rancher who brought this to my attention who they were telling had to do the same thing, build a fence, when the government was supposed to under the law I wrote. The arrogance of the agency was such that they said: We don't agree with you.
Now, there aren't many times, Mr. Speaker, in this job when you can say I know what the intent of the law was, but in this case I could because I wrote the law, I knew the intent.
Oh, that wasn't good enough. No, no, no. No, no, no. The arrogance of these agency people was such that we had to go to the archives and drag out the boxes from 2000, 1999-2000, when we wrote this law, from the hearings that had all the records for the hearings and the floor discussions to talk about the intent. And our retired Member, George Miller, actually we used some of his information where he said the government would provide the fencing. They were still reluctant to follow it. So I put language in the appropriations bill that restated the Federal law.
Do you understand how frustrated I am at this? Can you imagine how the people on the ground feel? Can you imagine? If you are not there, you can't. If you are not there, you can't.
You ridicule them. The Portland Oregonian is running a thing, what do you send? Meals for militia. Let's have fun with this.
This is not a laughing matter from any consequence. Nobody is going to win out of this thing.