President Donald Trump pardoned and commuted the sentences of two Eastern Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson for setting fire to public land in 2012. The case enraged many supporters and resulted in the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of intentionally setting fire to public lands. The Hammonds set a prescribed burn on 300 acres of their land that moved on to BLM land burned another 140 acres. The verdict carried a minimum sentence of five years in prison, but a federal judge granted much lighter sentences. However, federal prosecutors later won an appeal in October of 2015 and the father and son were sentenced to serve the mandatory minimum.
Upon the announcement, Russell Nemetz discussed the Hammond's presidential pardon with the Public Land Council's Ethan Lane, the Oregon Cattlemen Association's Jerome Rosa and the Montana Stockgrowers Association's Jay Bodner.
That decision inspired a 40-day occupation of the wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016. Armed supporters argue the two men were treated unfairly. Led by Ammon Bundy, the group occupied the refuge from January to mid-February 2016. Ammon is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who along with supporters staged a standoff with federal authorities in 2014 over a federal cattle roundup. The stand-off at the Wildlife Refuge came to an end when Bundy was arrested in a traffic stop and another occupier, Robert Finicum was fatally shot by Oregon State Police.
In a prepared statement the White House said, “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.''
Ethan Lane, Executive Director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA Federal Lands said, “We are extremely grateful to President Trump for granting a full pardon to Dwight and Steven Hammond. The Hammonds were forced to suffer from grave injustice for far too long, and the entire ranching community is relieved that they will be reunited with their families. No rancher undertaking normal agricultural practices should fear spending years in jail at the hands of the federal government. NCBA and PLC have continued to advocate for the Hammonds’ release, and we would like to thank Representative Greg Walden and the many others who worked tirelessly on their behalf.”