Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Over Arson Case

Jul 11, 2018
Originally published on July 11, 2018 5:16 am
Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump pardoned two Oregon ranchers yesterday. They were serving five-year prison terms for arson on federal lands. Their sentence sparked an outrage that was at the heart of the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge near Burns, Ore. Boise State Public Radio's Amanda Peacher has more.

AMANDA PEACHER, BYLINE: The Hammonds were about halfway through their prison sentence when the pardon came down. The news hit Harney County yesterday morning. It sparked an impromptu celebration at Kati Batie's house in Burns.

KATI BATIE: We're in our pajamas. People are driving up and down the street, honking at us, and it just is - it's an amazing day in Burns.

PEACHER: The ranching family had fought with federal land agencies for decades over water and grazing rights. Dwight and Steven Hammond said at trial that they had set fires that burned federal land near their ranch to protect their land from invasive species and out-of-control wildfires, but the jury didn't buy that. Many ranchers felt the Hammonds' five-year prison sentence was unjust and protested. That's what sparked the armed occupation in eastern Oregon led by the Bundy family.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "HAMMONDS NEED OUR HELP")

AMMON BUNDY: The Hammonds need your help.

PEACHER: That's Ammon Bundy back in 2015, making an appeal for people to come to Burns and protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "HAMMONDS NEED OUR HELP")

BUNDY: They need you to stand, whether they're afraid or not.

PEACHER: The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge lasted 41 days and left one person dead. The broader cause of the occupiers was focused on what they saw as federal overreach, but they talked about the Hammonds a lot. Now Dwight Hammond's wife, Susie, is elated to hear her husband and son will be coming home. She feels strongly that her family has been treated unfairly.

SUSIE HAMMOND: I don't think anybody knows how bad it is to have been government against you.

PEACHER: For people who disagree with the Bundys and the Hammonds, this pardon is an important signal. Aaron Weiss is with the Center for Western Priorities. He believes this sends the message that people don't need to follow the rules of federal agencies.

AARON WEISS: This will undoubtedly embolden those folks who now think - rightfully so, I think - that they have a friend in the White House and they have a friend in the Interior Department who won't stand up for the folks on the front lines.

PEACHER: The Bundys were acquitted for the Oregon standoff. And then this year, the federal trial over the 2014 Bundy conflict in Nevada ended in a mistrial. The Hammonds' pardon is the latest in a series of what some feel are wins for Bundy's supporters and those who want more local control of federal lands. For NPR News, I'm Amanda Peacher.

MARTIN: That story came to us from the Mountain West News Bureau. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.