July 21, 2018

Presidents will typically use their pardon power near the end of their term. However, President Trump has decided to use it throughout his presidency to quickly give certain prisoners relief from the overreach of federal law. One of the most recent instances was the pardons of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.

The Hammonds who were multi-generational cattle ranchers were convicted of setting fires to public lands in 2012. They said they had used the proper brush-control techniques, but the fire spread from the ranchers’ property onto federal property. The father and son team are currently serving five years each due to a 1996 anti-terrorism law that enforces a mandatory minimum sentence to those who commit crimes on federal lands. The original judge in their case, federal Judge Michael Robert Hogan, issued the Hammonds reduced sentences because he felt that the mandatory minimums were unjust. The Obama administration stepped in three years later and a new federal judge, Anne Aiken, issued the five-year sentences. Just when they thought their sentences had been served, the federal government slapped two more years on them.

This hit a nerve among the Hammonds’ fellow ranchers. The Hammonds’ incident just added to a list of grievances they already had. Ranchers felt like their lands were dwindling due to the federal government overtaking half of the land in Oregon alone. Their protest ended up in a 40-day armed standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. The FBI grossly mishandled the protests. They were investigated for shooting one person and trying to cover up the gunshots. Twenty-six protestors were arrested including the leaders of the protests, brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their father, Cliven Bundy. Their trials were wrought with absurd tactics, but all three men were allowed to go free after either being acquitted or their case was dismissed. The rest of the men were forced to take plea deals.

This shows you how far the federal government will go to assert their power. The federal overreach of public lands is still an on-going issue. The guidelines in which the government can claim land are so broad that almost any land can be declared for “protection” or “conservation”. The Department of Interior under the Trump administration has already scaled some of those public lands back but there are so many more areas that need attention. Nevada is the best example with only controlling less than 13% of their own lands. Similar numbers are not uncommon in the West.

Eagle Forum applauds President Trump for righting the wrongs of the previous administration. We also continue to work closely with the Department of Interior to reduce the amount of land that the federal government has taken.