Environmental groups sue to block Hammond grazing permit renewal


By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian

via The Bulletin (OR) - May 13, 2019


Three environmental advocacy groups Monday filed suit to block the renewal of a 10-year grazing permit for Hammond Ranches Inc., run by Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond.


Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Pendleton against the interior secretary, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the district manager of the land bureauís Burns District office.


The three groups argue that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinkeís renewal of the grazing permit after the Hammonds were issued pardons violated federal administrative regulations because it failed to consider the Hammondsí unsatisfactory record.


The groups contend the father and sonís cattle-grazing record violated regulations set by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Department of Interior and that the new permit didnít undergo proper environmental assessments.


They contend the renewed grazing will harm sage-grouse habitats in the region and increase invasive weeds and the likelihood of destructive fires.


On Jan. 29, Zinke ordered the permit renewal for Hammond Ranches Inc. to last through 2024.


In February 2014, the federal agency rejected the Hammondsí renewal application, citing their criminal convictions for setting fire to public land.


They were convicted in 2012 of arson on Harney County land where they had grazing rights for their cattle. They were ordered back to prison in early 2016 to serve out five-year sentences in a case that incited right-wing militias and inspired the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the Hammond family ranch.


But on July 10, the Trump administration pardoned the father and son.


The complaint filed Monday says the Hammonds, between 2001 and 2006, engaged in a pattern of setting fires on the public lands to remove sagebrush and juniper and increase forage for their cattle that endangered firefighters and members of the public.


The suit is filed against David Bernhardt, current interior secretary, and Jeffrey Rose, district manager of the the BLMís Burns District office.


After she was informed...