PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The two Oregon ranchers whose conviction for intentionally setting fires on public land sparked a weeks-long standoff with anti-federal government protesters at a remote wildlife refuge have had their grazing rights restored.
Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in one of his last actions before resigning, ordered the renewal of a 10-year grazing permit for Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports . The decision was dated Jan. 2, but it wasn’t sent out until this week.
“It’s been awhile in coming, but I’m happy to get our permit back,” Dwight Hammond Jr. said. “It is a relief.”
The Hammonds’ case was embraced by critics of federal land policy, who said local communities and states had too little control. But others, including environmentalists, said authorities were too accommodating of ranchers and other interests and urged the federal government to administer public lands for the widest possible uses.
Chris Saeger, executive director of Western Values Project, condemned the Hammonds’ permit renewal. Saeger said it sets a “dangerous precedent by conceding to known anti-public land factions that may endanger public lands, managing agencies and employees.”
“By allowing these lawbreaking extremists back on public lands, the Trump administration is sending the message that politics will always trump our American birthright,” Saeger said in a statement.
Last year President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds, whose case had prompted the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, led by two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
In February 2014, the federal government had rejected the Hammonds’ renewal application, citing their criminal convictions for setting fire to public land. Zinke ordered the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to renew the grazing permit through 2024.
“I find the pardons constitute unique and important changed circumstances since the BLM made its decision,” Zinke wrote in the decision.
Zinke announced his resignation late last year amid multiple investigations tied to his real estate dealings in Montana and conduct while in office.
The Hammonds had been convicted in 2012 of arson on land where they had grazing rights for their cattle. They were ordered back to prison in early 2016 to serve out five-year sentences in a case that incited right-wing militias and inspired the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the Hammond family ranch.
But on July 10, 2018, Trump pardoned the father and son.