President Trump pardons Oregon ranchers convicted of arson

Dwight and Steven Hammond will be freed from prison

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Dwight and Steven Hammond
Dwight and Steven Hammond (Photos: U.S. Department of Justice)

President Trump has issued full pardons to two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson on federal lands. Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49 were convicted in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison.

On September 30, 2001 the two Hammonds distributed boxes of matches to everyone in their hunting party with instructions to“light up the whole country on fire”. Initially they ignited fires on their property but the fires spread onto 139 acres of federal land.

Steven Hammond was also convicted of setting a series of fires on August 22, 2006. Those ignitions, during Red Flag Warning conditions, compromised the safety of firefighters who were working on another fire nearby. Some of them were forced to retreat from the area for their own safety. They were given advice and led to safety via radio by an orbiting Air Attack.

The Hammond case inspired the 40-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Robert LaVoy Finicum, one of the occupiers died, but brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the accused leaders of the occupation, were not convicted.

Below are excerpts from a statement issued by the White House today, July 10:

The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land.  The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.

The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West.  Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.

On January 5, 2016 we compiled a time line of the Hammond’s run-ins with law enforcement that involved land management. We developed the data from court documents, information provided by U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Gerri Badden, and other sources provided by some of our loyal readers. The entire time line including the fires in 2006 is here.

A reporter, JJ MacNab, has detailed lists of the charges against the Hammonds (including a few that we did not include in our 2016 time line) and identifies which ones they were convicted of. They were charged with setting five fires: Hardie-Hammond, Fir Creek, Lower Bridge Creek, Krumbo Butte, and Granddad. In order to get a plea deal, the prosecutors dropped three of them, including one that burned 46,523 acres of BLM managed land and 12,334 acres of private land.

Below is an excerpt from our time line, published in 2016, about the Hammond fires of September 30, 2001:

2001, September 30 — Hardie-Hammond Fire.

According to testimony from a commercial hunting guide, his two clients, and Dusty Hammond the grandson to Dwight Hammond and nephew to Steven Hammond, their family and friends were hunting when shots were fired from the group into a herd of deer on BLM land. The guide said four bucks were crippled, but the Hammond hunting party did not track or collect any deer.

Later, Steven, with Dwight at his side, handed out boxes of matches to everyone in the party including 13-year old Dusty. Their instructions were to “light up the whole country on fire”. They went off in different directions and began igniting fires, but Dusty was by himself, following a path pointed out by Steven. He was at first unsuccessful in getting the vegetation to ignite, but after Steven showed him how to use several of the “strike anywhere” matches together, he was creating eight to ten-foot flames which at one point surrounded and entrapped him causing him to fear for his life —  “I thought I was going to get burned up”, he said. The fires were lit along the line between their property and public land, and spread onto public land.

Gerri Badden, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the motive for setting the fires was to cover up the illegal slaughter of the deer which was witnessed by the hunting guide, the guide’s two hunters, and was affirmed by Dusty.

Two hours after igniting the fires Steven called the BLM to report that they were going to burn invasive species.

The hunting guide saw that the fire was moving toward their camp and was concerned about his safety and that of his two clients from Utah. The three of them evacuated from the area without even taking the time to break down and remove their equipment at the camp. As they drove away they were able to see the flames of the fire in the area they had left. Testimony in the trial indicated that the Hammonds were aware of the location of the guide and his clients before lighting the fires since they flew their airplane over the area earlier that morning.

Later in the day Dwight and Steven took to the sky again in their airplane to examine the burnt area, telling Dusty they were going to check to see if the fire got rid of the juniper, which is an invasive species that robs water from grasses grazed by cattle.

Dusty said that when the Hammond hunting party returned to the house after setting the fires, “Dwight told me to keep my mouth shut, that nobody needed to know about the fire”. Eight years later 21-year old Dusty told investigators why he waited so long to speak up about the arson, saying that if Steven heard he provided information he would come to Dusty’s front door and kill him.

The writers of the sentencing report said the setting of the fires created a “conscious or reckless risk of death or serious bodily injury” to individuals including Dusty Hammond. The fires burned 139 acres of federal land.

As our regular readers know, we do not allow discussions in the comment section about politics. However, for this one article only, we are going to try something, and allow it, since the action that occurred today directly affects wildland firefighters. If it devolves into bitter, nasty, hate-filled diatribes, we’ll shut it down. It’s OK to disagree, but let’s not be disagreeable.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

40 thoughts on “President Trump pardons Oregon ranchers convicted of arson”

  1. One more reason I will be voting for anyone but Trump when he comes up for re-election.
    This is unconscionable.

  2. One more reason to vote for Trump. You’re knowledge is inaccurate and the fake news media has devoured this as well as everything else they talk about.

  3. So my question is how does this affect those of us that are actually fighting fire? I could careless what a land owner does on their own land. If the fire then spreads to the public lands then that land owner should be held liable for the cost incurred in suppression of that fire on public lands, I do not believe jail time should be used. At the end of the day all federal wild land firefighters work for the people of this great nation. A lot of federal employees seem to have forgotten that. Its not about which side of the aisle you are on politically. What really matters is balancing all the uses of the land to ensure our children’s children have these lands to go too and use for many years to come.

  4. to M — check out Oregon’s law addressing exactly what you wrote. SB360.

    How does this affect firefighters? (And, I might add, hunters and fishermen and government employees in rural areas — just for starters.) What it does is it makes a point. Do what you want, exercise your “rights” on your property, and ta heck with those pesky laws and government employees. Firefighters? Biologists? The Paiutes? Ta heck with them too, because hey, the president’s on our side.

    The misunderstanding of this case amongst the general public out there is scary. One woman commented on the Oregonian story that these guys surely would not be poaching because they could hunt year round on their big ranch. (???) You think the public misunderstands wildland firefighting? The public misunderstands bigger stuff.

  5. Their town has a VFD and these men were not it, that speaks volume to me. I read the court docs few years ago. they lit fires around crews, drove by the crews being surrounded by their non approved burnout. 2nd time,one of these guys spoke the crew boss and never told him he just set fires. I like Trump but he got it wrong here. They may be ranchers and have family…but morals and ethics, they have none.

  6. Bill and Molon: this has a direct and immediate impact on the safety of wildland firefighters, other first responders and LE folks. It needs to be discussedon this Forum. I’m off to my monthly Missoula Rural Fire Board meeting tonite, and we talk about “active shooter events” almost every meeting. These Wackos in the Woods are a direct and immediate threat to FF safety and their actions cannot be condoned. MAGA = Making Arsonists Great Again?

  7. The public “owns” the public lands, regardless of which agency manages its use: USFS, BLM, BIA, National Park Service. How can individuals claim “rights” to these lands? The whole point of federal property ownership is to protect resources that all Americans share. Individuals profiting from grazing rights, mineral rights, resource extraction without remediation all sacrifice the common long-term good in favor of individual short-term monetary gains. I own an interest in the Malheur Wildlife Sanctuary and all public lands. I trust the government agencies that use science and experience to manage the lands for the long term over any individual who wants personal financial gains. I’m astounded that a pardon exists for people who put others in mortal jeopardy, disrespect common laws, and coerced a child into their agenda. Our firefighters are underpaid, lack long-term health protection, and lack organized protection for their work, their welfare, and the extreme danger they face. What in the heck is happening here? I have to wonder if it is time for our wildland firefighters and land management agencies to withhold service until the public is ready to ‘own’ this whole situation and provide budgetary resources in proportion to the sacrifice that is demanded. Rylee Dustin.

  8. Molon…Prove you are not a Troll. Your rhetoric suggests you are; so prove me wrong by bringing something to the discussion. My brother is a smokejumper, but before he goes out on the road with his Bros-leaving his family behind, before he jumps out of the plane to help manage and protect the national trust, he is a public servant. He does his job because he cares about his community/country. To deface him and the wild land firefighting community both by this ridiculous Pardon & your assertions on this site is an exercise in laziness/sloth at best, and dangerous at worst. And when I say laziness I mean laziness of thought and rhetoric with no gratitude to those who invest everything INCLUDING their lives to protecting our public spaces.
    “Stupidity is relentless” -Ancient Firefighter Proverb

  9. i will most likey get baned for this,but mr trump is a bad thing for our freedoms,just look at the attacks on the DOJ and FBI and him making pardons like this,the USA will become a lawless place in a few years with Mr putin calling the shots.the more trump does,the more we lose..wake up people.

  10. Arsonists will never pay the actual monetary cost for starting a fire on private land or state land or federal land or tribal land. Arsonists will never care and are uneducated about what resources they will hurt. How they will change the environment by starting a fire. If it looks like only dry grass and sage or if it looks like scrappy timber. There are future long term consequences that happen. I would see old log piles in Nevada and would wonder how all the trees and sagebrush had disappeared. Only golden fields of cheatgrass would remain around them. Who knows what other animals would be there before this change. I know its not only arsonists but natural causes and invasive species that change things. I think it is a joke for people to be punished by telling them to repay the cost of a fire fight. I saw a fire that was roughly 400-500 acres this year and the cost was nearly 3 million dollars. Hopefully nobody gets injured or killed by arsonists but then again unless they are multimillionaires then maybe the lawyers will get rich. The feds will never see the money. Oh well don’t burn down your own states.

  11. These pardons send a message to people who disrespect the law and to people who are willing to risk the lives of others to express their political beliefs. The President sees such people as his base and he hopes they will speak out against the justice system when he is found guilty. This is a shameful example of self-serving abuse of power. Anyone who cares about protecting the lives of their families and their communities should condemn these pardons.

  12. Here is a prime example of why we should wait a bit and re-read any forum comments or emails before we hit “send”!

  13. The fact that they parked there heavy equipment on the boundary line when fencing was going up, they surveyed the area in their plane and they paid the $200,000 fine without a problem all say to me they have plenty but wish to take control of what is public lands to further their own bankroll. Placing other in danger, only caring about the land (both theirs and public) to profit for themselves. When they broke the laws with arson and obstruction… it is no different an argument than someone crossing the border illegally. We have laws, enforce them. We have public lands protect them. We as firefighter know both these statements, we do not plunder homes evacuated and then leave them to burn we protect, serve and honor our ourselves and those we work for. I as a republican can say I do not agree with this pardon.

  14. I am the wife of a 37-year retired career wildland firefighter. Trump pardoning domestic terrorists who committed arson as an act of defiance against the US Government because the didn’t like the restrictions on the use of public lands is a threat to the stability of our country, and a threat and an insult to every public servant- especially the firefighters who then had to put themselves in harms way to put out the fire. Of all the shocking and harmful things Donald Trump has done, this, so far, is the worst. He pardoned anti-Government domestic terrorists. And if you know anything about arsonists- they are about as sick as they come. So he is sending a signal to vigilantes that the law doesn’t matter, that if you support him, he’ll protect you. He is saying, go ahead and set the government on fire, use public lands the way you want, harm Trump’s opponents, harm people who disagree with you, harm people who are different than you, commit domestic terrorism in his name, and he’s got your back. The new brown shirts. We should be pouring into the streets.

  15. That’s sadly true. We’re devovling into lawlessness and this descent is being driven by an ego-maniac.

  16. dudesome, the site has on its front page “BLM Vendetta: Hammonds Headed For Jail On Criminal Charges Filed By BLM on Normally Minor Fire Issues” … I don’t think I’ll be trusting that outfit for the “real story” when they think setting fire to the brush downhill of a spiked crew is a “normally minor fire issue.”

    How specifically do you figure Thinkprogress is a joke?

    Have you ever been a firefighter? (I realize the issues here are bigger than that, but this is after all a wildland fire site.)

  17. yes: wildland, Structure, local SAR and national/state EMTB. How about you? BTW, the link is to the PDF of the indictment. did your Progressive site link to those docs or just give a dose of Marxist propaganda. the docs offer the on the ground personals testimony of the BLM crew and the Hammonds actions, responses, and proof of character. Thinkprogress <—- read the name. comical at best.

  18. I am no fire expert, but I say any fire can become life-threatening if conditions change, whatever. Our firefighters should NEVER have to risk their lives because some low-life intentionally sets a fire and commits arson. Thank you to all of our brave firefighters. So sorry about this pardon. It was wrong.

  19. This whole affair comes down to the one sentence from your timeline above- If they had to sell their property in order to make the payments, under the agreement the government had first right of refusal. However the two payments of $200,000 were received, and there was no sale of property.

  20. Those actions taken, starting a backburn, directly effected the safety of the firefighters engaged on the primary incident. I have personally been on fires that ranchers start their own fires and disrupt the planned ignition plan. This form is about wildfires and if you can not see the danger or have never experience being walled in by fire then you should not be making comments about how those firefighters work for the public endangering them.

  21. Somedude, that’s part of the story but not the whole story. The ‘ThinkProgress’ article provides plenty to think about. I don’t agree with everything there but to characterize it as Marxist propoganda doesn’t make much sense; ad hominem arguments rarely do.

  22. Mr. Gabbert, thank you for publishing your article. Your content is very accurate and well presented. I was the ATGS overhead during all of the excitement. I, among others spent months and months dealing with the aftermath of this incident through the legal system. As you stated in your column there is a lot more to this whole Hammond issue then just the occurrences of 8-22/23. I spent many, many years in the Fire Service and I can assure your readers that what happened that day was the act of individuals that had no regard what so ever for the safety of the firefighters on the ground. I saw with my own eyes how close one of there sets came to our ground folks. Mature adults all have some level understanding the consequences of there actions. I can only assure that injury or worse to Firefighters was not a big deal to the Hammonds.

  23. The apparent thoughtless or wanton disregard for the possible consequences of igniting potentially dangerous fires, whether on public or private land and, hence this pardon, is unconscionable. Good old boys visions of the unpopulated wild west supported by the plinth of Public Lands. There is nothing arcane about who and what our current President is or what and who he stands for. I would guess that this President cares less about the men of the pardon than he does about strengthening his radical voter base. It all boils down to what side of the fence you are on. One side is government of the people, by the people and for the people. The other side is that of egocentrism perhaps bordering on narcissism.

    Remember this. A pardon does not morally absolve these men of what they did but it does reinstate their voting privileges if they were taken away. And, sometimes in accepting a pardon there is an implication of guilt. LR

  24. @LoneRanger: Right on.
    I’ve spent more than a little bit of time in that part of Oregon. There are MANY people there who have said for years that the United Nations is merely a cover for a plot for a one-world economy and a complete usurpation of U.S. citizens’ rights. (How exactly this would play out in Malheur or Harney County is not clear, but that’s what they’re sure of.) Some folks there are severely antagonistic toward the USFS and the BLM — as you may have noticed with the Malheur standoff. But let’s not forget that most of those fellers were neither locals nor cowboys, let alone local cowboys.

  25. This leaves a terrible precidence for anyone, anyone who starts a control burn, intentional or nonintentional fire, anywhere, not just on private land, that spreads to public land(s).

    Fires do not “leak” from one area to another, they’re spread as those in the industry and on the front line(s) know, by ground or air. What is lost in this discussion, and Trump’s pardon, is lives and homes can be and are lost, on any size fire(s). The Federal Government has consistently for years reduced funding to the FS and BLM for fire suppression, forcing State’s to budget with reducing and limited resources to manage fires, which are increasingly becoming larger and far more dangerous to suppress.

    By Trump pardoning these two, this can set a precedent anywhere for anyone found to have caused a fire, found (located) and charged, that you may be pardoned or not held responsible or liable at all regardless of the outcome. Ie lives and structures lost.

    Perhaps all of us should not care how a fire is started and burns, lives and structures lost, and that we’ll just be on our own. Having spent 35 years of my life as a wild land firefighter now retired but working seasonally, and on a 60,000-acre man caused fire as I type, this concerns me greatly.

  26. I’m not sure why anyone would think such a pardon is okay. These fools committed an illegal act; jail time and restitution are appropriate penalties for this act.

  27. @ a firefighter:
    If he had commuted the sentences and freed the Hammonds, that would have been cool and a reasoned discussion may have resulted. What he did, though, is a slap in the face to all federal employees and firefighters, and a big locker-room attaboy to the Bundy gang. The discussion in the ThinkProgress link above illuminates both of these points.

  28. I also read they started fires to hide their poaching.

    No words for them, and this pardon.

  29. Exactly. They and Trump have thumbed their noses to everyone – let the arsonists reign.

  30. The big name not even being mentioned for the reason behind this pardon’s is Representative Greg Walden; who represents Eastern Oregon in the House of Representatives. He is the main reason behind this pardon I blame him more than anybody for the release of the Hammonds. this is a very pain staking issue because I was their on those fires with my crew back in August of 2006

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