Ground Truth: Dispatch

Lawsuit Challenges Oregon Grazing Permits

Conservationists filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the renewal of grazing permits for two Oregon ranchers who had previously been imprisoned after being found guilty of setting fire to public lands.

Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, were convicted of arson in 2012 and sentenced to mandatory five-year minimum prison terms. Prosecutors accused them of setting illegal fires on two occasions. They said the Hammonds set one of the fires to destroy evidence after they poached deer.

The Hammonds’ imprisonment sparked the 2016 occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge south of the city of Burns.

President Trump pardoned both ranchers last summer. In January, as one of his last acts in office, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the renewal of the Hammonds’ grazing permits.

The lawsuit contends that Zinke’s order ignored the Hammonds’ previous grazing violations and sidestepped mandatory environmental reviews.

“This was political interference at the highest levels of government,” said Judi Brawer of WildEarth Guardians, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs. “Letting a Trump appointee arbitrarily determine who does and doesn’t get the privilege of grazing on our public lands is an insult to public lands users.”

The other groups filing the lawsuit include Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity.