Hammond Ranches, Inc. (HRI) has withdrawn its appeal without prejudice against the federal government and will compete for the grazing rights held by the family for decades.
By filing its appeal without prejudice, HRI reserves the right to reinstate its legal objection to the decision denying grazing rights in 2014.
Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, were convicted in 2012 of setting fire to their grazing allotments on public land adjacent to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. As a result, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) declined in 2014 to renew the Hammonds’ grazing permits.
In 2018, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reissued the Hammonds’ grazing permits after finding that the BLM’s conclusions regarding the Hammonds’ permit violations were in error. Environmental groups sued the Department of Interior claiming the government violated its own policies in restoring the Hammonds’ permits.
In December 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon rejected Zinke’s decision to restore grazing rights to Dwight and Steven Hammond.
Appeal without prejudice
HRI had until May 12 to file a motion with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt stating how they would proceed. By applying for grazing rights with both the district manager for the Burns District, OR, BLM and Bernhardt, awarding of the grazing rights can proceed.
Tara K. Thissell, public affairs specialist for the BLM Burns District, indicated the timeline to proceed on the grazing permits was determinant on a decision by HRI on how to proceed with their current appeal. Once the decision is made, the agency will analyze qualified candidates, but does not have a specific timeline.
Alan Schroeder, attorney for HRI, hopes the BLM and Bernhardt will issue a permit as quickly as possible but indicated the lands might not be available for grazing this year. Schroeder stated it is difficult to determine what the BLM or the secretary will do.
Schroeder indicated that while the judge’s decision in 2014 rescinded the grazing rights, HRI still holds a grazing preference.
HRI is one of four applicants to apply for livestock grazing preference on conditionally available forage on public lands in the Bridge Creek area of Steens Mountain, OR. The area covers 26,000 acres that encompass both private and public lands.
A Freedom of Information Act request was filed on behalf of WLJ to obtain the names of the other parties bidding for grazing rights, but the BLM did not disclose the names.
The BLM cited, “There is a significant privacy interest in the requested information because the applicants whose names are sought have yet to be determined by the BLM to be successful or unsuccessful and may or may not continue to participate in the process.”
The BLM asserts that public disclosure of the applicant names would constitute an invasion of privacy and would only disclose the number of applicants.
Letters to Jeff Rose, Burns District BLM office district manager, and Don Rotell, Andrew/Steens field office manager, were sent by several groups expressing support for the permits to be awarded to HRI.
“HRI has acted consistently as good stewards of the land, and they have acted consistently as responsible and considerate neighbors,” Tree Top Ranches, LP said in their letter. “It is further our understanding that HRI deeded lands and the base lands offered by HRI would lend to the efficient operation of the allotments.”
Representatives from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Farm Bureau, Haney County Farm Bureau, county judges and commissioners wrote, “HRI is the only entity that can effectively and efficiently manage the allotment. The Hammond family is a pillar of the local community, and their ranch is part of the many ranches that form the backbone of the local community and local economy.
“Having this family return to ranching as quickly as possible is also in the BLM’s best interest, as HRI’s grazing on the allotments reduces wildfire risk, improves habitat, and allows [the] continuation of the successful practice of integrating [the] management of BLM’s public lands and the Hammonds’ private lands interspersed throughout the allotment.”
Allowing any other party to use the allotment would require the BLM to either fence or negotiate a purchase or lease of this land, which the Hammonds would not support. Other ranchers would not have access to water or other improvements on the private property necessary to ensure the effective management of the public lands.
This would lead to potential overuse or misuse of private lands to compensate for not having access to the facilities and resources on the Hammonds’ private property.
If the permits are awarded to another party, HRI has indicated they will seek compensation under the Taylor Grazing Act, which “requires all new holders of grazing rights, not just transferees from previous holders (see 43 CFR § 4120.3-5), to compensate the former occupant for range improvements constructed and owned by that former occupant prior to receiving authorization to use existing range improvements.”
Also, they will seek compensation for any “unfenced intermingled private land and its water rights within and/or adjacent to the boundaries” of the grazing allotments currently in the bidding process. — Charles Wallace, WLJ correspondent