Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson on Federal Lands
Defendants Set Fires on Federal Lands on Which They Had Grazing Rights For Their Cattle Ranching Operation
PENDLETON, Ore. - Late last night, a jury in Pendleton, Oregon convicted Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., age 70, and his son Steven Dwight Hammond, age 43, both residents of Diamond, Oregon in Harney County, of committing arson on federal lands. U. S. District Judge Michael Hogan presided over the trial and will later schedule sentencing, likely to occur in September 2012. Both defendants face a five year mandatory minimum prison sentence, a maximum fine of $250,000, and restitution.
The verdict came after a two-week trial and involved allegations that the Hammonds, owners of Hammond Ranches, Inc., set a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation. It was alleged that the Hammonds set the fires to reduce the growth of juniper trees and sagebrush, and accelerate the growth of rangeland grasses used for cattle feed.
"Fires intentionally set on public lands endanger firefighters and the public," stated United States Attorney Amanda Marshall. "The verdict sends an important message to those who think that they are above the law. We applaud the jury in Pendleton for doing the right thing based upon the evidence presented."
The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. These were federal lands which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them at the time by BLM.
Steven Dwight Hammond was additionally convicted of a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.
The jury acquitted, and the government dismissed, allegations that the Hammonds conspired and set two other fires in 2006.
"This verdict against BLM grazing permittees in Eastern Oregon brings justice and closure to a very long episode that started more than ten years ago with landowners setting fires, putting BLM firefighters in harm's way. The BLM cares deeply about the health and safety of our employees and will stand up for them when they are threatened or harmed," said Acting Oregon/Washington BLM State Director Mike Mottice.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Frank Papagni and AnneMarie Sgarlata.