On January 2, 2016, an armed group attended a peaceful protest in Burns, Oregon, of the imprisonment of father Dwight and son Steve Hammond. That protest resulted in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge armed takeover. The Hammonds are area ranchers who were convicted of a 2001 arson of federal lands, specifically the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area that is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, BLM, and borders their ranch. The Hammonds had a lease from BLM for grazing rights on a portion of the land. The Hammonds was also convicted in 2006 for destroying federal land by fire.
According to the United States Attorneys Office, District of Oregon, the court that originally sentenced the Hammonds agreed that the mandatory five year prison sentence for arson on public lands was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Hammonds history of disregard for federal laws made the sentence of five years proportionate with their crimes and resentenced them to comply with the law. The Hammonds filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, but it was denied. The Hammonds reported for their prison sentences on January 4, 2016.
A protest of the Hammonds imprisonment was held in Burns, ORE, on the following Saturday. That protest was attended by approximately 100 people, including self proclaimed patriots and militia. Following the protest, a group of armed militia separated from the protestors, traveled approximately 30 miles to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and seized control of the buildings and the land surrounding it. That group of militia was led by Ammon Bundy, son of the Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, that held a 2014 armed standoff against the BLM in when it attempted to take his cattle that were grazing on federal lands because he had refused to pay his grazing fees since 1993and refused to remove them. That standoff was accomplished with the use of antigovernment supporters. The reason for the Malheur standoff was that the occupiers wanted the federal government relinquish control of federal lands.
The BLM disengaged and no further action, legal or otherwise, was taken against the Bundy’s. Fast forward to 2016 when the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was seized by Cliven Bundy’s sons and numerous, revolving supporters. The standoff between Bundy’s armed militants and the federal government continued for 41 days and resulted in the death of one militant supporter that refused to comply with demands to surrender and instead reached for his gun. It also resulted in setting back the efforts of the refuge to maintain habitats, prevent invasive species in the waterways, and assist area ranchers.
Apparently the Bundy’s became quite brave after they were able to successfully prevent BLM from taking their cattle in 2014. It would appear they felt that they could stage an armed protest by taking control of federal lands and there would be no repercussions. They were wrong.
To date, over 26 participants have been arrested and charged with a minimum of the felony conspiring to impede federal officers by threats, intimidation or force. When Cliven Bundy traveled to Oregon to visit his sons in jail, he was arrested on the same charge for the 2014 standoff. His sons and others involved in the Nevada standoff have also been charged in the state of Nevada. Most, including the Bundy’s, are awaiting trial in both states.
The bottom line of this article is that some ranchers want to use federal lands to make money raising cattle, but do not want to pay for it because they want the land for themselves. They do not feel that the government should interfere in their “right” to do as they please on land that is not theirs. This article is simply an introduction to the issue. There is much more to it than can be addressed here.