Ranching Standoff Grazing Permit Lawsuit

In this 2016 file photo, rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his home in Burns, Ore. A judge on Friday revoked the grazing permit for Hammond and his son Steven. The ranchers were pardoned last year by President Donald Trump on an arson conviction for setting fire to federal lands.

PORTLAND, Ore.— Livestock grazing won’t be allowed this year on four eastern Oregon allotments formerly grazed by Hammond Ranches. The Trump administration recently abandoned its appeal of a 2019 court ruling overturning then Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s decision to renew the father and son’s grazing permit.

Before issuing any new permits, the Bureau of Land Management must complete an environmental analysis of the potential harms that grazing may cause to the sensitive fish, wildlife and birds, and their habitats.

The dismissal means that Judge U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon’s 2019 decision stands and that there will be no grazing on the four allotments until the Bureau goes through the process for issuing a new grazing permit, including an environmental analysis required under the National Environmental Protection Act.

In March 2020 the Bureau opened applications for a new grazing permit on these allotments. The Hammonds and three others applied. The Bureau has not disclosed how it intends to choose new permit holders or how it will involve the public in this new permitting process.

The Bureau of Land Management revoked the Hammonds Ranches’ grazing privileges in 2014 after Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of arson on federal lands in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison. President Trump pardoned the Hammonds for their arson convictions in 2018. Later that year, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, on his last day in office and during a government shutdown, ordered BLM to renew the Hammonds’ grazing permit, citing the pardons as “changed circumstances.” BLM complied shortly after the government shutdown ended.

Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians sued. Judge Simon concluded that Zinke improperly directed the Bureau to renew the Hammonds’ grazing permit without determining that they had a satisfactory record of performance under their old permit. That, in essence, upheld the agency’s original decision and threw out the ranchers’ permits.

The grazing allotments are located on Steens Mountain, and adjacent to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Steens Mountain is a congressionally protected landscape that’s critically important for greater sage grouse. But the birds’ population there has declined by 50% in just the past decade.

The Hammonds’ imprisonment and the Bureau’s initial decision not to renew their grazing permits was the impetus for Ammon Bundy and other extremists to stage an armed takeover at the Malheur Refuge.