While most of the media attention is focused on a handful of protesters camped out in a vacant building on a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and the plight of the Hammond family ranchers is dismissed as justice being served, a few accounts are beginning to explore the underlying cause of the controversy — overreach and abuse of power by federal land managers.
The situation is being compared to others across the country that indicate a pattern if not a conspiracy.
One of those comparisons is to the Hage ranch litigation that has lasted more than two decades and outlived the father and mother of the current owner of the ranch near Tonopah.
At one point a federal judge said this about the federal land managers:
After the filing of this action, the Government sent trespass notices to people who leased or sold cattle to the Hages, notwithstanding the Hages’ admitted and known control over that cattle, in order to pressure other parties not to do business with the Hages, and even to discourage or punish testimony in the present case. For this reason, the Court has held certain government officials in contempt and referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In summary, government officials … entered into a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience of the Court and provides a sufficient basis for a finding of irreparable harm to support the injunction described at the end of this Order.
An article at the National Review cites this case and others as examples of the long brewing Sagebrush Rebellion.
The article also cites the case of a Wyoming rancher who refused to grant the BLM a right-of-way across his property. He lost at the Supreme Court but a dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was scathing in its assessment of the federal government. She wrote that the BLM “demanded from (rancher Harvey Frank) Robbins an easement — for which they did not propose to pay — to replace the one they carelessly lost,” due failing to file on the deed before Robbins bought the ranch. According to Ginsburg, Robbins became the target of “a seven-year campaign of relentless harassment and intimidation to force [him] to give in.”
Also National Review writer David French notes that the feds had been taking over Oregon ranches near the wildlife preserve for years and that by the 1990s, the Hammonds were among the few ranchers left. Some were forced to sell when the feds diverted water that flooded grazing land and made it unsuitable for ranching. “The protesters allege that the government then began a campaign of harassment designed to force the family to sell its land, a beginning with barricaded roads and arbitrarily revoked grazing permits and culminating in an absurd anti-terrorism prosecution based largely on two ‘arsons’ that began on private land but spread to the Refuge,” he writes.
If the Hammonds sell the ranch, the government has the first right of refusal.
A Wall Street Journal article points out the brazenness of federal land managers, citing a Texas example.
The Aderholt family had grazed cattle on a ranch near the Red River for seven decades until the BLM told them in 2013 that 650 acres of the ranch’s 900 acres belonged to the federal government because it was adjacent to the river.
“This land was bought and paid for and people struggled to acquire it, so for them to just come in and swoop in and say it’s theirs is pretty devastating,” the article quoted the rancher as saying.
The writers note that a neighbor of the Hammonds in Oregon was forced out by the feds, because the ranch’s grazing land kept getting reduced. “They just kept cutting back and cutting back on the grazing leases,” the rancher was quoted as saying. “They want to turn it all over for birds instead of cattle.”
Just a year and a half ago dozens of ranchers met in Austin, Nev., to try to figure out what to do about grazing reductions imposed by the BLM.
“I have worked hard my entire life to get along with the BLM and I have never been cited for trespass,” one rancher said. “But then one man with some sort of vendetta comes in and, with a snap of his fingers, he makes a decision that can ruin the lives of my family. It’s terrible.”
Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal editorial declares:
Many in rural Oregon view this as a government vendetta. Rusty Inglis, who worked for the Forest Service for 34 years and now runs a local Oregon farm bureau, recently told a trade magazine that it’s “obvious” that “the BLM and the wildlife refuge want that ranch.” The Oregon Farm Bureau called the sentences “gross government overreach.” The ideology of “national” land has become the club to punish private landowners who are the best source of economic stability and conservation.
While many in the press mistakenly say the Hammonds set fires on public lands, they actually set fires on their own land and it accidentally spread to the 140 acres of public land near the 187,000-acre federal refuge that has grown from its original 89,000 acres in 1908.
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden:
Walden: “More than half my district is under federal management, or lack thereof.”
Walden also noted that federal agents set a back fire on private land that jeopardized the private land owners who were fighting fires in the area, but no one was ever charged with a crime.