It appears that there is much more to the Hammond/Bundy story than meets the eye. For a bit of history, let’s go to Tri-State Livestock News:
The first fire, in 2001, was a planned burn on Hammonds’ own property to reduce juniper trees that have become invasive in that part of the country. That fire burned outside the Hammonds’ private property line and took in 138 acres of unfenced BLM land before the Hammonds got it put out. No BLM firefighters were needed to help extinguish the fire and no fences were damaged.
“They called and got permission to light the fire,” Dwight’s wife, Susan, said, adding that was customary for ranchers conducting range management burns – a common practice in the area.
“We usually called the interagency fire outfit – a main dispatch – to be sure someone wasn’t in the way or that weather wouldn’t be a problem.” Susan said her son Steven was told that the BLM was conducting a burn of their own somewhere in the region the same day, and that they believed there would be no problem with the Hammonds going ahead with their planned fire. The court transcript includes a recording from that phone conversation.
In cross-examination of a prosecution witness, the court transcript also includes an admission from Mr. Ward, a range conservationist, that the 2001 fire improved the rangeland conditions on the BLM property.
Maupin, who resigned from the BLM in 1999, said that collaborative burns between private ranchers and the BLM had become popular in the late 1990s because local university extension researchers were recommending it as a means to manage invasive juniper that steal water from grass and other cover.
“Juniper encroachment had become an issue on the forefront and was starting to come to a head. We were trying to figure out how to deal with it on a large scale,” said Maupin, whose family neighbored the Hammonds for a couple of years.
“In 1999, the BLM started to try to do large scale burn projects. We started to be successful on the Steens Mountain especially when we started to do it on a large watershed scale as opposed to trying to follow property lines.”
Because private and federal land is intermingled, collaborative burns were much more effective than individual burns that would cover a smaller area, Maupin said.
Maupin said prescribed burns to manage juniper were common in the late 1990s and early 2000s, best done late in the fall when the days are cooler.
Prescribed burns on federal land in their area have all but stopped due to pressure from special interest groups, Maupin said. As a result, wildfires now burn much hotter due to a “ladder” of material on the ground – grass, brush and trees.
“The fires now burn really hot and they sterilize the ground. Then you have a weed patch that comes back.”
Maupin said planned burning in cooler weather like the Hammonds chose to do improves the quality of the forage, and makes for better sage grouse habitat by removing juniper trees that suck up water and house raptors – a sage grouse predator.
Susan said the second fire, in 2006, was a backfire started by Steven to protect their property from lightning fires.
“There was fire all around them that was going to burn our house and all of our trees and everything. The opportunity to set a back-fire was there and it was very successful. It saved a bunch of land from burning,” she remembers.
The BLM asserts that one acre of federal land was burned by the Hammonds’ backfire and Susan says determining which fire burned which land is “a joke” because fire burned from every direction.
Neighbor Ruthie Danielson also remembers that evening and agrees. “Lightning strikes were everywhere, fires were going off,” she said.
The Hammonds were charged with nine counts in the original court case.
The BLM accused the Hammonds of several 2006 fires, including a large one known as the Granddad, which blazed about 46,000 acres.
According to the 2012 sentencing document, the jury found the men innocent or were deadlocked on all but two counts – the two fires the men admitted to starting – burning a total of about 140 acres.
Judge Hogen dismissed testimony from a disgruntled grandson who testified that the 2001 fire endangered his life and that of local hunters, saying the boy was very young and referencing a feud that may have influenced the testimony.
“Well, the damage was juniper trees and sagebrush, and there might have been a hundred dollars,” he added.
More to the story?
During her tenure as a full time BLM employee from 1997-1999, Maupin recalls other fires accidentally spilling over onto BLM land, but only the Hammonds have been charged, arrested and sentenced, she said. Ranchers might be burning invasive species or maybe weeds in the ditch. “They would call and the BLM would go and help put it out and it was not a big deal.”
On the flip side, Maupin remembers numerous times that BLM-lit fires jumped to private land. Neighbors lost significant numbers of cattle in more than one BLM fire that escaped intended containment lines and quickly swallowed up large amounts of private land. To her knowledge, no ranchers have been compensated for lost livestock or other loss of property such as fences.
Gary Miller, who ranches near Frenchglen, about 35 miles from the Hammonds’ hometown, said that in 2012, the BLM lit numerous backfires that ended up burning his private land, BLM permit and killing about 65 cows.
A YouTube video named BLM Working at Burning Frenchglen-July 10, 2012 shows “back burn” fires allegedly lit by BLM personnel that are upwind of the main fire, including around Gary Miller’s corrals. The fire that appeared ready to die down several times, eventually burned around 160,000 acres, Miller said.
Bill Wilber, a Harney County rancher, said five lightening strikes on July 13, 2014, merged to create a fire on Bartlett Mountain. The fire flew through his private ground, burned a BLM allotment and killed 39 cows and calves.
While the fire could have been contained and stopped, BLM restrictions prevent local firefighting efforts like building a fireline, so only after taking in 397,000 acres did the fire finally stop when it came up against a series of roads.
The issue isn’t limited to Oregon. In 2013, two South Dakota prescribed burns started by the U.S. Forest Service–over the objections of area landowners– blew out of control, burning thousands of acres of federal and private land. Ranchers that suffered property damage from the Pautre fire in Perkins County, South Dakota filed extensive tort claims in accordance with federal requirements, but will receive no compensation because USDA found the U.S. Forest Service not responsible for that fire.
So, it appears that burns were regularly conducted by private parties in conjunction with BLM personnel. No big deal. Until the Hammonds. But why? Could this maneuvering by the BLM possibly be politically motivated?
In an effort to stave off what they feared was a pending Clinton/Babbitt monument designation in 2000, a group of ranchers on the scenic Steens Mountain worked with Oregon Representative Greg Walden, a Republican, to draft and enact the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act that would prevent such a deed. The ranchers agreed to work with special interest “environmental” groups like the aggressive Oregon Natural Desert Association and others to protect the higher-than 10,000-foot peak.
A number of ranchers at the top of the mountain traded their BLM permits and private property for land on the valley floor, allowing Congress to create a 170,000 acre wilderness in 2000, with almost 100,000 acres being “cow-free.”
“The last holdouts on that cow-free wilderness are the Hammonds,” said Maupin. Though some still have BLM grazing permits, the Hammonds are the last private landowners in the area.
“It’s become more and more obvious over the years that the BLM and the wildlife refuge want that ranch. It would tie in with what they have,” said Rusty Inglis, an area rancher and retired U.S. Forest Service employee.
The last holdouts in a war for land that the BLM wants. It appears that Agenda 21 is in full swing, and the Hammonds just happen to be in the way and have no intentions of moving. So the problem becomes how to make them move.
In the Hammonds’ plea agreement in the 2012 trial, the BLM obtained the first right of refusal should the family have to sell their private land…
With the BLM waiting in the wings as the first to snap up the land by court order when they are forced out, it becomes relatively apparent what is really going on in Harney County.
BLM Uranium and Gold Deal
Uranium deposits are considered “locatable minerals” under The General Mining Law of 1872, as amended. That law opened the public lands of the United States to mineral acquisition by the location and maintenance of mining claims. The exploration and mining of these types of mineral deposits are administered under the General Mining Law Regulations at 43 CFR 3800. For more information visit the OR/WA BLM’s Locatable mineral website: http://www.blm.gov/or/programs/minerals/locatable-minerals.php.
Private ownership of any land in the targeted area is a problem. The land needs to be “public” land.
Sprawling Malheur County could soon be in the spotlight as a mining hub — or a battleground of uranium and gold mining interests vs. environmentalists trying to protect its lonesome sagebrush landscape.
Australian-owned Oregon Energy LLC hopes to mine 18 million pounds of yellowcake uranium from the southeastern Oregon high desert 10 miles west of McDermitt near the Oregon-Nevada boundary. The go-ahead to mine the so-called Aurora uranium deposit could bring up to 250 construction jobs to the county, followed by 150 mining jobs.
Meanwhile, Calico Resources USA Corp., a subsidiary of a Vancouver, B.C., company, may seek permits this month to chemically extract microscopic gold from a high desert butte south of Vale called Grassy Mountain, a project likely to create another 100 jobs. http://thedailymatrix.com/malheur-county-targeted-for-gold-uranium-mines/
If this is connected, it is an absolutely brilliant plan! Enlist the help of ranchers working with environmentalists who think they are protecting the land to grab that land for the BLM and place it in the “public” land category in accordance with Agenda 21, so the BLM can then make a deal with private corporations to mine the Uranium and Gold in the now “public” land.
Map of Oregon Counties
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©2016 Barbara H. Peterson