The Oregon Standoff: Guns, Lawyers and Money

The Oregon Standoff: Guns, Lawyers and Money

The Oregon Standoff: Guns, Lawyers and Money

Oregon has some interesting events going on.  The Oregon standoff is making international news.  A quick recap:  A father and son were accused of setting range fires and convicted of this by a jury.  Dwight Hammond was sentenced to 3 months in prison (he is 79) and Steven Hammond received a sentence of a year and a day.  US Attorney Amanda Marshall decided to appeal the sentence and she was granted her appeal.  The Hammonds got a new sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines each.  Some folks calling themselves a militia and led by Ammon Bundy went and occupied a visitors center in the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve.  In the end, there will be three things remembered about the Oregon Standoff: Guns, Lawyers and Money. Apologies to Warren Zevon.

The Guns: It is almost too easy to get sidetracked by the epic stupidity that is Ammon Bundy and his army of fools. Really it is easy to focus on their appalling lack of forethought, planning and misuse of federal land and running around waving guns like a bunch of kids with water pistols. Or GTA the video game. For the Bundys it is less about the actual issues of BLM overreach and an aggressive US Attorney.  It seems to be all about camera ready posturing and cosplay.In reality, this illustration inspired by the 1980’s show Married With Children’s hero Al Bundy and Ammon Bundy (left and right side) says it all.


The Lawyers are another fun kettle of fish. The Hammonds were tried and convicted for setting fires (controlled burns onto Federal Land). Oregon Live reported

The government alleged the Hammonds set the range fires to reduce the growth of juniper trees and sagebrush and to accelerate the production of rangeland grasses for cattle feed.

Well now this is a stretch.

Mike Mottice, acting Oregon/Washington BLM state director, said the verdict brings down the curtain on the deliberate ignition of wildfires that began more than 10 years ago and put BLM firefighters in harm’s way.

Ummmm firefighting is not exactly hazard free. And controlled burns are not arson.

“The BLM cares deeply about the health and safety of our employees and will stand up for them when they are threatened or harmed,” Mottice said.

But we really do not give a rip about the people and livestock our weed abatement non effort impacts?  Gee thanks guys.

Ranchers across southeastern Oregon have complained about the time needed by BLM for environmental studies before it attacks invasive weeds and juniper, and about limits on the agency’s use of herbicides. Weeds often provide little nutrition to cattle, while juniper sucks moisture from already-parched desert soils.

Parched.Desert.Soils. That would be a rather large fire if a car backfired or someone say lit a signal fire.  How is that preserving wildlife?

In bringing the action against the Hammonds, prosecutors said the government had spent $600,000 battling the fires.

Well isn’t that special. Let’s discuss another fire that occurred during the 10-year period (there were 2 in the region but 2003 is more personal. I grew up in San Diego and my family still lives in the area. In 2003, I vividly recall the end of October through the first part of December as a time of fear and of fire. My memory is of a skyline that stayed a horrifying orange grey for weeks.  Most businesses closed for at least a week: it was dangerous to be outside too long as the air was toxic thanks to the Cedar, Paradise and Old Fires.

The Cedar fire was the worst and it lasted over a month.  The final toll was horrific: 280,278 acres burned,  2,820 buildings (including 2,232 homes) destroyed and killed 15 people including one firefighter. The total cost was about $400 Million in losses. Never mind the many health issues for residents who breathed toxic smoke for a month and a half. And what was the sentence for the guy who started the signal fire? He got six months in a halfway house and 960 hours of community service with 5 years’ probation and a $9,000 fine. Sergio Martinez the hapless hunter could have been sentenced to 5 – 10 years in federal prison (likely a similar institution to the Hammonds) but he got a break.

So this non lawyer has to ask why these guys who did a controlled burn without BLM approval with no deaths or structural losses was worth 5 years in federal custody? What would cause Ms. Marshall and her office to ignore the judge’s initial sentence and appeal to the notorious 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a longer sentence? What motives are there to go after this family in a vindictive way Ms. Marshall? We do not know her motives or have all the information. But my question is this: Why was my health and safety and that of my former neighbors and coworkers and friends, the losses in commerce, lives and homes for a community worth less than some grazing lands in rural Oregon?

The Money: There is a significant financial impact on the Hammonds. Five years in prison and legal fees and fines. The BLM appears to be doing everything to drive the Hammonds off their ranch and frankly that just sticks in my craw. This is an issue that ranchers and farmers and local officials have dealt with for decades out West. In this instance, the Hammond family needs to come up with close to a half a million dollars in lawyer fees and court costs which if I am not mistaken could have been less burdensome. But that would mean the BLM and If Mr. Bundy and friends actually cared a rip about the Hammonds, they could have started a paypal or a gofundme or any number of fundraising efforts. Or started conversations about the BLM role.

The issue of the BLM and grazing rights, of contained fires and cooperation with ranchers and farmers rather than trying to strong arm them off their land are all vital out West and should be discussed. And the BLM needs to work with ranchers and listen to the very real concerns of these families and perhaps manage the land they are supposedly custodians of for all of us.

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