President Trump pardons Oregon ranchers convicted of arson

Dwight and Steven Hammond will be freed from prison

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.

1,500-acre fire at Malheur NWR

Above:  The Voltage Fire, undated photo, credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Firefighters are making progress on a wildfire that started April 27 in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, but it sounds like there will be extensive mopup since it is burning in heavy tule marsh vegetation. Firefighters are using roads, canals, open water, and nonburnable vegetation for control opportunities.

Voltage Fire
Voltage Fire. Photo credit: Peter Pearsall, Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Here is the latest information about the Voltage Fire issued Thursday by the Refuge:

The fire started April 27 from a lightning strike, and burned approximately 1,500 acres. Firefighters are continuing to suppress the wildfire in organic soils, and will be conducting interior burn out operations today to remove the immediate threat to control lines. Photo credit: Peter Pearsall, Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Voltage Fire Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Photo by Kay Steele

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell talks about recovery at the Soda Fire

Secretary Jewell discusses the rehab of the Soda Fire and the illegal occupation of a National Wildlife Refuge.

In an interview with Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell talked about the rehabilitation of the Soda Fire that burned 279,000 acres in Oregon and Idaho southwest of Boise last August. She addressed some of the criticism about the rehab strategy and also talked about the illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and its effect on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees.

Map Soda Fire
Map of the Soda Fire (red line) at 9 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015. The brown and red dots represent heat detected by a satellite as late as 10:05 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015. The fire was actively spreading near the location of the red dots at that time — the red dots were the most current. (click to enlarge)

Throwback Thursday: remember this prescribed fire at Malheur?

Revisiting an article from February 27, 2014

Rx fire at Malheur Nat'l wildlife Refuge. USFS photo by Shane Theall.
Prescribed fire at Malheur Nat’l wildlife Refuge. USFS photo by Shane Theall.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. their….

Malheur Fire Program and the Burns Interagency Fire Zone conducted a 2,250-acre prescribed fire on the Deer Park Unit of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this week [late February, 2014]. Located in southeastern Oregon’s high desert, at the northern end of the Great Basin, the 187,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge is famous for its spectacular concentrations of wildlife. With its abundant water resources in an otherwise arid landscape, the Refuge hosts more than 320 bird species and 58 mammal species.

Rx fire at Malheur Nat'l Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo by Carla Burnside.
Prescribed fire at Malheur Nat’l Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo by Carla Burnside.