Oregon Standoff

Two Ranchers, Two Fires, Too Long Behind Bars

The resentencing of Dwight and Steven Hammond illustrates the injustices wrought by mandatory minimums.

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The occupation of buildings at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a group of armed and disgruntled ranchers has brought national attention to a case that illustrates the injustices wrought by mandatory minimum sentences. The men who took over the buildings on January 2, led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, broke off from a protest in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son Oregon ranchers who were each sentenced to five years in federal prison for setting brush-clearing fires that spread to public land. Unfortunately, the intense hostility that the occupation has aroused among progressives has overshadowed a case that otherwise could help advance a transideological alliance in favor of reforming our excessively rigid and punitive criminal justice system, which is especially rigid and punitive in its treatment of drug offenders.

The Hammonds, who have distanced themselves from Bundy and his followers, reported to federal prison in California last week. Because their original sentences were lengthened after the government challenged them, this is the second time Dwight, who is 73, and Steven, who is 46, have gone to prison for fires they set on their own property in 2001 and 2006. The first fire, which the Hammonds said was intended to eliminate invasive juniper trees, burned 138 acres of federal land. The second fire, a "back burn" aimed at protecting the Hammonds' winter feed from wildfires ignited by lightning, consumed one acre of federal land.

To put those numbers in perspective, the Hammonds' land totals about 10,000 acres, interspersed with several times as much federal land. Neither fire injured anyone, and the jury in the Hammonds' 2012 trial determined that the total property damage came to less than $2,000. The judge who sentenced the Hammonds said the damage to sagebrush and juniper trees caused by the larger fire might have totaled more than $100, although "I think Mother Nature's probably taken care of any injury." In fact, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concluded that the 2001 fire improved the federal land it affected. 

Still, the prosecution argued, the Hammonds did not get permission from the BLM for the fires, which could have done worse damage. The government also alleged, based on the testimony of Dusty Hammond, Dwight's grandson and Steven's nephew, that the 2001 fire was aimed at covering up evidence of illegal deer hunting. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan discounted that testimony at sentencing, noting that Dusty, "who was a youngster when these things happened," had a grudge against Steven because of the harsh discipline he had suffered at his hands. Hogan determined that federal sentencing guidelines recommended a range of zero to six months for Dwight and eight to 14 months for Steven. He sentenced them to three months and one year, respectively.

On the face of it, those sentences were illegal, because the Hammonds had been convicted of violating 18 USC 844(f)(1), which prescribes a five-year mandatory minimum prison term for anyone who "maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive," any federal property. Hogan thought it was unlikely that Congress, which enacted that mandatory minimum in 1996 as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, intended it to cover the accidental burning of federal land "out in the wilderness." Such a sentence "would shock the conscience," he said, and violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments" because it would be "grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses."

Even the federal prosecutor who asked for the mandatory minimum conceded that "perhaps the best argument…the defendants have in this case is the proportionality of what they did to what their sentence is." He admitted that the mismatch was "troubling." The government nevertheless challenged the sentences that Hogan deemed appropriate, arguing that the law gave him no choice but to impose the mandatory minimum. In 2014 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed, saying "a minimum sentence mandated by statute is not a suggestion that courts have discretion to disregard." That is why the Hammonds, who had already completed their original sentences, were ordered back to federal prison, the development that led to the protest that attracted Bundy and his followers.

In rejecting Hogan's conclusion that the mandatory minimum was unconstitutional as applied to the Hammonds, the 9th Circuit noted that the Supreme Court "has upheld far tougher sentences for less serious or, at the very least, comparable offenses." The examples it cited included "a sentence of fifty years to life under California's three-strikes law for stealing nine videotapes," "a sentence of twenty-five years to life under California's three-strikes law for the theft of three golf clubs," "a forty-year sentence for possession of nine ounces of marijuana with the intent to distribute," and "a life sentence under Texas's recidivist statute for obtaining $120.75 by false pretenses." If those penalties did not qualify as "grossly disproportionate," the appeals court reasoned, five years for accidentally setting fire to federal land cannot possibly exceed the limits imposed by the Eighth Amendment.

In other words, since even worse miscarriages of justice have passed constitutional muster, this one must be OK too. Given the binding authority of the Supreme Court's precedents, the 9th Circuit's legal reasoning is hard to fault. But it highlights the gap between what is legal and what is right, a gap that occasionally inspires judges to commit random acts of fairness.

In the 1991 case Harmelin v. Michigan, the Supreme Court said "grossly disproportionate" prison sentences violate the Eighth Amendment. But it also said a mandatory life sentence for possessing 672 grams of cocaine was not grossly disproportionate, signaling that it would be very difficult to successfully challenge prison terms on Eighth Amendment grounds. In practice, it has proved pretty much impossible. As the Hammonds' lawyers noted in a petition seeking Supreme Court review of the ranchers' case (which the Court rejected last March), neither the Supreme Court nor any federal appeals court "has concluded that a term-of-years sentence violated the Eighth Amendment" in the quarter-century since Harmelin.

Although the Hammonds' lawyers tried, it is hard to argue that the five-year mandatory minimum their clients received is more disproportionate than the much longer prison terms that are routinely upheld by federal courts. It seems to me that what the Hammonds did—set fires that damaged someone else's property, even if unintentionally—is actually worse than possessing 672 grams of cocaine, which violates no one's rights and therefore should not be treated as a crime at all. Likewise possessing nine ounces of marijuana, a "crime" that Virginia chose to punish with 40 years in prison—a penalty that the Supreme Court upheld in 1982.

Drug penalties in Michigan and Virginia are not quite as harsh as they used to be. Michigan's mandatory minimum for possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine or heroin, which used to be  life without the possibility of parole, is now 20 years, and the time an offender serves can be shortened by parole. Virginia's maximum penalty for selling up to five pounds of pot is now 10 years. But there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially at the federal level, where nonviolent offenders can get sentences as long as life for violating the government's pharmacological taboos.

Congress is currently considering bipartisan legislation that would reduce some of those penalties, and legislators' willingness to vote for substantial reforms will depend on the reaction they expect from their constituents. The Hammond case is an opportunity to expand support for sentencing reform among conservatives who otherwise would not be inclined to sympathize with crack dealers, pot growers, and LSD distributors. The challenge for left-leaning critics of the war on drugs is to look past the antics of the Bundy bunch so they can see that they and the Hammonds' supporters are fighting for the same principle: The punishment should fit the crime.

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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66 responses to “Two Ranchers, Two Fires, Too Long Behind Bars

  1. Eric Garner was killed by police so I’m not concerned with some rednecks getting screwed by the govt.

    1. That was essentially the exact argument a friend of a friend made on Derpbook to me.

      Except it was literally a justification for blood for blood.

    2. That is the most retarded thing I’ve read on the internet today, and I just came here from Tumblr.

    3. if you don’t take a stand against ANY such injustice its only a matter of time before the same thing befalls YOU.. it will look different, but just as painful. A government that abuses its power to unjustly punish any individual will, sooner or later, do the same to anyone and everyone else. Wrong is wrong, perpetrated against redneck of hippie or bluecollar working man.

      1. My bad. Sorry to the visitors to this site for not putting /sarcasm after my post. I thought that post might be so absurd that it wasn’t needed.

    4. Eric Garner was killed by police so I’m not concerned with some rednecks getting screwed by the govt.

      You’re mixing up the issues. What happened to the Hammonds is wrong, but the Hammonds have reported to prison and disavowed the Bundy protest.

      The Bundy family, on the other hand, has simply been the recipients of large government handouts for decades; while I agree in principle that federal lands should be transferred to the states and largely be privatized, the Bundys are not a credible advocate for that position.

  2. Still, the prosecution argued, the Hammonds did not get permission from the BLM for the fires, which could have done worse damage.

    So we punish people for what they might have done?

    1. If you consider most traffic, drug and alchohol related offenses, and ever expanding invasive “safety” regulations, I’d guess we punish people about 9 times out of 10 for ‘might have done’ crimes.

    2. Yes. Such as for attempted murder. Not that I support the sentences described here….

      1. I believe one could make a distinction between “might have done” and “tried to do”

    3. they DID call local fire, and got theirOK for the first. The second was a backburn to stop huge fires set by lightening that were racing toward their own home and outbuildings, a large herd of cattle, and their winter feed supply. The fact it ONLY burned one acre of “BLM land” is nothing short of highly skilled management of the backburn on the part of the Hammonds. Hsd they not done so, their home, outbuildings, large part of their own cattle, and their winter feed, along with several thousand acres of “BLM land” including a large part of the “refuge” would have been completely destroyed. Hammonds did BLM a HUGE favour, and instead of cooperation and a “hey, thanks, you saved our bacon”, they get…. jail time.
      Bottom line: BLM want Hammonds land, like they’ve already taken many of their former neighbours. Theft under colour of law, backed by government guns. Reads like a Franz Kafka novel…..

      1. Bottom line: BLM want Hammonds land, like they’ve already taken many of their former neighbours. Theft under colour of law, backed by government guns. Reads like a Franz Kafka novel…..

        The Hammonds have a 160 acre plot in the middle of federal land. That entitles them to the same thing as any other private land owner: use of their own land, with a big fence around it and no access to water or other resources on federal land, and serious penalties if fires or other things spread from their land to adjacent land. That’s the same situation as if their farm were surrounded by private property. Since they obviously can’t run a farm that way, their best option is to sell. If they had wanted control of more land, they should have purchased it; they had decades to buy out their neighbors and amass enough land to run their operations entirely on private land.

        Whether you are a progressive, libertarian, or conservative, there simply is no way that people who own 160 acres have an automatic right to running their business on adjacent lands, whether those adjacent lands are privately owned, state owned, or federally owned.

  3. In rejecting Hogan’s conclusion that the mandatory minimum was unconstitutional as applied to the Hammonds, the 9th Circuit noted that the Supreme Court “has upheld far tougher sentences for less serious or, at the very least, comparable offenses…

    So, unconstitutionally is precedent for more unconstitutionally.

    1. Hey once you start fucking people around you can’t just not fuck the next guy, ‘twouldn’t be fair.

      1. +1 Equality of outcome

        1. We all deserve to be fucked over equally and often !

    2. The 9th Circuit opinion itself highlights why these ranchers and the Black Lives Matters supporters SHOULD be on the same side. Each of the precedents cited, I’m willing to bet, involved a poor minority.

      This issue clearly transcends “right” and “left” and race. Media pigeonholing similar concerns into different “sides” in our wider political battles is what will kill any real attempt at reform because focusing on and magnifying meaningless distinctions are good for ratings.

      1. not to mention it is part of the kinyun’s long running campaign to divide us into factions, set tose factions at odds, resulting in chaos, then HE will step in with the “final solution” and “fix” it all by declaring martial law, and everyone will feel SO safe and welcome the end of chaos….. only to get sucked down the four inch black vertical pipe….. and destroyed. Read Marx and ALinsky, this is rifght out of both. The kinyun has read them,,, so have I, but I reject them both as bankrupt. The kinyun embraces them as his ticket to power,

  4. bureau of land management has the same acronym as black lives matter. coincidence? i think not

  5. Notice in the national media they treat the Bundy’s as if it’s independent from the Hammond story. I mean, proper context and an explanation for the backstory would ruin their ‘red necks are stoopid extremists and Palin’ narrative, no? And if forced to consider it, they’ll find a way to revise and spin it in favor of TOP MEN.

    Everyone’s a terrorist now thanks to that law.

  6. Unfortunately, the intense hostility that the occupation has aroused among progressives has overshadowed a case that otherwise could help advance a transideological alliance in favor of reforming our excessively rigid and punitive criminal justice system

    You have to remember though, there’s armed white rednecks to hate on. ARMED WHITE REDNECKS! For progtards, principals are more important than principles.

    1. In fairness, a lot of conservatives write off progressive concerns about prosecutorial overreach involving the poor and minorities. It’s the same side of the same coin. The disagreements between the two benefit noone… and your “progtard” dismissive attitude doesn’t help. But, hey, don’t let your hate of the “other side” get in the ay of thinking rationally.

  7. I wonder what did happen between Steven and Dusty Hammond back then. Is it poetic justice that someone who once meted out excessive punishment is now receiving it?

    1. excessive according to whom? A rebellious thirteen year old will hear “wash your hands before supper” as abusive and restrictive.

  8. Nah, it’s just so much easier if half the country thinks the other half doesn’t have justifiable concerns. That way there’ll just be a bunch of complaining without anything being done. Almost seems like we’re being manipulated by people who don’t actually care about our well-being…

    1. (nodding aggressively)

  9. It seems to me that what the Hammonds did?set fires that damaged someone else’s property

    Except they didn’t.

    They set fires that SAVED their wholly owned property and property that they are part owners of–said property being public land.

    And I defy you to find a single case of property damage that has been proven to be accidental that was subject to a mandatory minimum.

    1. BLM biologists testified that those burns INCREASED the value and usability of the BLM land so burned. Further, BLM often set fires in the same area, to do the same things, and some of THOSE have got out of control and burned down private homes.. which damage not only did not result in any five year sentences, but was never compensated for to the private owners whose homes were destroyed by BLM carelessness. This has been well documented…. BLM fires havve also been deliberately set and destroyed many head of Hammond cattle. No compensation, no jail time.

    2. They set fires that SAVED their wholly owned property and property that they are part owners of–said property being public land.

      They aren’t “part owners” of public land. To the contrary, the “grazing rights” they were temporarily granted by the government on public land were a government handout in response to intensive lobbying. The land owner for the adjacent land is the federal government, and as the land owner, it can choose not to renew the grazing rights and put the land to different use, just like any private land owner. If the Hammonds can’t run a business like that, that’s their problem.

  10. Wait. It seems that this is an accident. He didn’t mean to, and, while he was careless, it wasn’t “malicious” whivh 18 USC 844(f)(1) stipulates.

    Does this mean that, if I am smoking in my car, hit a patch of ice, and slide into a federal landmark (or just off the road and crash into a federally owned tree), I could be sent to prison for 5 years? This seems – odd.

    1. only if you failed to ask permission to hit the tree or possibly knock it down or (heaven forbid!) KILL IT

    2. The jury found him to be acting “malicious”; the most likely basis for that was testimony from a family member (fact is we can never actually know why they found him “malicious”). The trial judge disagreed, finding the nephew’s testimony to be biased, and (for that reason and others) imposed a lighter sentence than the statutory minimum. But that was not really the judge’s call — whether or not a witness is believable when testifying is squarely within the responsibilities of the jury — which was one of the reasons the Ninth Circuit overturned.

      1. Did a jury render a verdict or was this the result of a plea bargain?
        Inquiring minds need to know

        1. most of the charges were dropped in a plea bargain that, according to the Hammonds and their laowers, wou;d “end the matter now”, they served their time thinking they were DONE…. and now have put for the second time in jeopardy for the same offense with the new sentence… whcih not only locks them in jail for years, but imposes other sanctions, and will almost certainly result in BLM getting all of Hammonds’ property.. which has been their plan all along. Dirty pool if ever the game was played.

  11. If the court agreed that the fires were accidental, how were they convicted of a crime that required them to “maliciously damage or destroy” federal property. Is there a special sense of the word “malice” intended here?

    1. BFYTW.

    2. There was testimony indicating it was to coverup illegal deer hunting.

      Seriously, people: it’s right there in the article, in the 4th paragraph!

      1. It is unclear from that paragraph whether the alleged illegal deer hunting was supposed to have happened on their own property or the federal land. If it was their own property, then the spreading of the fire was still accidental as opposed to malicious. Unless “malice” is being used with some special, magical legal meaning. That’s what I’m asking about.

        If the judge was able to discount Dusty Hammond’s testimony at sentencing, why on Earth was it admissible as evidence of “malice” during the trial?

        I’m going to need to go to law school after all, Mom.

      2. flawed testimony from a kid who was 13 when the fire happened, he contradicted his story several times, and was not clear in significant details Further, anyone who has lived in such an area will know full well that a fast moving grass fire will NOT burn hot enough or long enough to “destroy evidence” of poaching. Had there been solid enough evidence, rest assured BLM would have gone for the jugular for illegal taking of wildlife. After all, that whole place is a “refuge”, isn’t it? Get real. Never established as fact,. The second fire was a backburn to stop some fast mving range fires set by lightening… and Hammonds’ quick and decisive action setting that one saved thousands of acres and many homes from being destroyed. Malicious? Not hardly. BLM want their land, that’s the bottom line. They’ve been trying to steal it for years, just like they’ve stolen it from most of their nejghbours. Same story with the Bundys.. BLM trying to steal the last privatley held lands so they can rule their little fiefdom in peace.

  12. the left often refuses to work with people who have a similar opinion on a subject if those people don’t agree with them 100% of the time and hence thats why little gets done to correct problems.

  13. “. . . the appeals court reasoned, five years for accidentally setting fire to federal land cannot possibly exceed the limits imposed by the Eighth Amendment.”

    I’m curious what statists consider “excessive”.

    Someone should do a study of all the government abuses of the bill of rights. Power always seeks more power.

  14. And meanwhile the EPA dummies spill tons of crap into a NM river and . . . “Oops, our bad.”
    George Orwell is laughing in his grave.

  15. I think the Feds have been trying to get their land for quite a while. That is probably the reason for the harsh treatment for poaching the King’s deer.

    1. no question this is wel documented BLM have already taken, with similar tactics, the lands of almost all the neighbours in the area. They want it all.

  16. It seems to me that what the Hammonds did?set fires that damaged someone else’s property, even if unintentionally?is actually worse than possessing 672 grams of cocaine, which violates no one’s rights and therefore should not be treated as a crime at all.

    This doesn’t seem necessarily true to me. I quite agree that the possession of the 672 grams of cocaine shouldn’t be illegal. But, it strikes me that the damage to the federal property was accidental. As such, I can’t imagine why it would be a crime and not a tort.

    1. The Justice System has be come the Political Justice System.

    2. There was no damage to the federal lands… BLM agents testified that the fires actually INCREASED the value and function of the land by removing non native invasive and damaging species, in the first one, and preventing a n umber of lightning set fires from destroying tens of thousands of acres and homes, cattle, outbuiildings, etc. BLM often sets similar fires to accomplish the same goals, and some of those fires have got out of control ,buring private homes, herds, barns, equipment, etc, because BLM do not know how to namage such fires. The Hammonds obvisouly do.

  17. These white red-necks DARE to DENY that Government Almighty LOVES us, so I must sing them a song…

    Scienfoology Song? GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

    Government loves me, This I know,
    For the Government tells me so,
    Little ones to GAWD belong,
    We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

    GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
    Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
    Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
    And gives me all that I might need!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

    DEA, CIA, KGB,
    Our protectors, they will be,
    FBI, TSA, and FDA,
    With us, astride us, in every way!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

  18. “Maliciously damages or destroys any federal property by explosive or fire.”

    Doesnt “malicious” imply intent, specifically harmful intent? There was no intent to set fire to federal land, so “on the face of it” they did not break the cited law.

    1. Oops, looks like Simonjester and JasonAzze beat me to it.

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  21. They’re not even guilty by the act.

    “Maliciously damage”

    Where is the malice in land management of invasive species or in using a back burn to protect yourself from a nearby fire?

  22. Jefferson: The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow) working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.”

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  24. In plain English, the sentencing action, might antics be a more accurate term, imposed by the second federal judge strike one as offensive beyond the pale, unacceptably far beyond the pale.

    1. The government did this, the government did that…….What if actual individuals used their special government powers and made these decisions?
      In the future, please feel free to name names so that those with the special powers can be properly acknowledged by the public at large.
      Who prosecuted this “crime” and who is their direct supervision?
      Don’t lynch me for my opinion.

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  27. “maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive,” any federal property. and RIGHT THERE lies the root of the matter. There is NO WAY any malice was intended or wrought in either fire. For the larger one, a prescribed burn, they had called the local fire deparement as they always had done, and were goven the Go Ahead. There is no LAW requring them to “get permission” for such a burn, they’ve been going on for a century and more. On the smaller one, lightning had set off dozens of fires in the area, and some were aproaching Hammond’s home and outbuildings, and their winter feed supply. There was NO TIME to ask for permission, any more than a guy seeing brush burn heading toward his house would “ask permission” to turn on a water hose to try and put it out. That fire they set was a backburn to stop the larger lighting-caused burns from destroying everyhing, and likely spreading far and wide. Their backburn STOPPED the main fires. Had they not done so, not only their own home and outbuildings would have burned, but pehaps thousands of acres of BLM controlled land would have also been destroyed.

  28. Further, you left out a rather important detail: BLM biologists testified at the trial that the burns on BLM land INCREASED the value of that land, by removing non-native and invasive species that were suppressing the natural and native range growth. So not only did they not “destroy” “federal property”, they PROTECTED AND PRESERVED IT, and also INCREASED ITS VALUE. So, that 18USC bit of false accusation was groundless from square one.

    There is a rather ugly backstory you also left out. BLM had, over many years, driven off other ranchers with these and similar tactics, stealing and annexing their land to their little “wildlife refuge”… (neutral studies have established that the “refuge” no longer attracts migrating wildlife, it all prefers working privatly held lands, and there are ten times as many individual wildlife animals on local private land as there are on that BLM “refuge”. BLM have also diverted water righfully that of the Hammonds, using it to illegally fill a large lake, causing it to flood tens of thousands of acres of privately held land (talk about “wilfully damaging federal property”, BLM do it in spades), driving the owners to abandon it. Once the owners did leave, BLM figured out how to seize it… and annexed it to the Refuge now being held. In other words, BLM have systematically been stealing that land for decades.

    1. The reason they have made life miserable for the Hammonds is that they want THEIR land, too, to add it to the “Refuge”. They have imposed a huge fine, which likely will not be paid on time, thus giving BLM an “out” to steal that land as well. Even if Hamonds are forced to sell off some of their land, BLM inserted a clause providing THEM with First Right of Refusal in any sale… so BLM are set up well to annex Hammon’s property under duress. In the old west they shot people for playing those kinds of tricks to steal land from folks.

      You have barely scratched the surface of the injustices, corruption (manyh of the details about the trial venue, jury, blocked testimony, etc, any one of which should be enough to call for a mistrial, and probably put some federal officials behind bars for perjury, jury tampering, withholding evidence, suppressing dfense testimony (sic days for Ged testimony, ONE day for Hammonds) Youd think this case came from the archives of rural Soviet Russia. But, the real question arises: WILL FedGov get backed down in their unlawful “ownership” of lands, prohibited it by the Constitution, and state charters? We shall see. They want control of untold riches in the form of minerals under the suface… their greed wants to keep it out of the hands of honest, hardworking families that have made that valley what it is. Thieves in government issued costumes, tin badges, nice embroidered patches, and guns on their hips.

      1. You have barely scratched the surface of the injustices, corruption

        The first injustice, and arguably the root of all of this, is widespread federal land ownership in the West, and massive government handouts in the form of agricultural subsidies, water rights, and grazing rights.

        Now, many decades later, you have a bunch of people who are used to their entitlements complaining that they are being taken away because their special interest lobby (farmers and ranchers) has fallen out of favor, while other special interest lobbies (environmentalists) have come into favor.

        The only solution to these problems is to privatize these lands entirely. But I wouldn’t bet on the Hammonds ending up in a better situation than they are now if that were to happen.

    2. There is a rather ugly backstory you also left out. BLM had, over many years, driven off other ranchers with these and similar tactics, stealing and annexing their land to their little “wildlife refuge”

      Yes, BLM has done that and I don’t particularly like the BLM. I also think that federal land ownership in the West should largely end.

      But if what is now BLM land were private property, the Hammonds would be in the same situation: the private land owner (it might be, say, the Nature Conservancy) could decide not to renew grazing rights and water access, and the Hammonds would be in the same situation. The only way the Hammonds could have ensured control of the 1000-something acres they need to run their business is to purchase that much land privately. Since they chose not to do that (and since that is probably not economically viable), they can’t continue living the way they do.

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