As the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed militia closes out another week, btw brings you news of what is happening and what both sides hope to accomplish in a standoff.
Father and son ranchers, Dwight Hammond (73) and Steven (43), own about 12,000 acres of land located in Harney Country Oregon. It is adjacent to land owned by the federal government. The men have a history of conflict with the government going back to 1994. In 2001, the Hammond’s set fire to part of the land in order to kill an invasive species of plant life, and the fire spread to the federal land. The ranchers were also allegedly warned when it turned out that they had not gotten the necessary “burn permits.” After setting two more fires (in 2001 and 2006), the men were convicted of arson. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (signed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings) called for a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for arson on federal land.
With the Hammonds set to serve their sentences, the case gained the attention of many people opposed to government overreach. Some examples of ways that protestors have shown support for the Hammonds include a petition for leniency circulated singed by 2,000 people, interest from militia organizations across the country, and an organized protest. One of the most vocal opponents of the Hammond’s sentence has been Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of a Nevada cattle rancher with their own long-history of disputes with the government over grazing rules.
One of the reasons that the Hammonds and the Bundys have been protesting the power of the federal government is because of land rights. The federal government oversees and manages a lot of land in the Western states where these ranchers live and make their living. The federal government operates an estimated 53 percent of the land in Oregon, 66 percent of the land in Utah, and 85 percent of the land in Nevada. These people are upset and frustrated that they must conduct their actions and complete lots of government paperwork as part of their every day work routine.
On January 2, Bundy brothers, along with an estimated two-dozen others, left a protest gathering in Burns, Oregon and drove 30 miles to the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The protest group, which now calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, assumed control of a unoccupied offices, where they plan to stay indefinitely.
In a blog dated November 3, Bundy warned “federal agencies and all government officials that follow oppressive examples that the people are in unrest because of these types of actions.”
The ultimate goal of the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom remains unclear beyond the general opposition to federal rules they believe are unfair. Federal and local authorities, including Harney County Sheriff David Ward, have not yet taken action to forcibly remove the group from the premises.