For Immediate Release, June 19, 2020
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910, firstname.lastname@example.org
Trump Administration Abandons Hammond Ranches Appeal in Reprieve for Oregon Wildlife, Public 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-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to renew the father and son’s grazing permit.
That decision gives greater sage grouse, redband trout and other imperiled species a much-needed reprieve.
“Hammond Ranches repeatedly violated the terms of their grazing permit, including by engaging in arson on public lands, which ultimately landed Dwight and Steven Hammond in prison,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “Now that the government has abandoned its appeal of the ruling, Hammond Ranches won’t be able to graze their cattle on these public lands anytime soon.”
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.
“This fragile landscape has been devastated by years of over-grazing,” said Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program. “Steens Mountain wildlife and the ecosystem now have some time to recover. We’re confident that any new environmental analysis will show that grazing inflicts irreversible damage to this environment.”
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.
“It’s smart that the government has decided not to appeal this sound ruling, because what Secretary Zinke did was wrong,” said Judi Brawer, Wild Places program director at WildEarth Guardians. “It was improper interference and politically motivated pandering.”
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 and sentenced to five years in prison. In 2018 President Trump pardoned the Hammonds. In January 2019, on his last day in office and during a government shutdown, Zinke ordered the bureau to renew the Hammonds’ grazing permit, citing the pardons as “changed circumstances.”
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. The judge also threw out the ranchers’ permits.
The grazing allotments are located on Steens Mountain, 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. Grazing here would cause irreparable harm to sage-grouse habitats and streams that contain rare redband trout. It would also expand cheatgrass infestations, increasing fire risk.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.