Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson on Federal Lands

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday

Just 25 miles away is Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which was taken over in 2016 by armed protesters angered by the five-year prison sentences given to the Hammonds after they were convicted of setting fires on federal land.

"They now think they have a friend in the White House who does not value public lands", said Aaron Weiss, media director for the Center for Western Priorities, a nonprofit that advocates protecting public land. "Trump's move marks yet another big victory for backers of the Hammonds, including Ammon Bundy and his followers who repeatedly cited the case as the trigger for the 41-day occupation of the wildlife refuge that abuts the Hammond family ranch".

The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 after a jury found them guilty of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands.

"We brought it to the attention of the vice president, " said David Duquette, a Hermiston resident who serves as national strategic planner for the advocacy group Protect the Harvest.

Originally, federal prosecutors charged the Hammonds in 2010 with burning more than 45,000 acres of federal land near their ranch in Diamond, Ore., in blazes dating back to the 1980s. Prosecutors said in 2016 they set fires to cover up evidence of poaching. "The fire spread farther than it should have and consumed more than 100 acres of federal grazing land, but that hardly makes the Hammonds criminals". The relatively short sentences came despite mandatory minimum sentences of five years.

U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan said such a lengthy sentence "would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality ... it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me".

They were initially sentenced to less than the legal minimum five years in prison by a judge who said the minimum was too harsh. However, in October 2015, a federal appeals court ordered them to be resentenced to the mandatory minimum. It turned deadly when police shot one of the occupiers. They say he reached for a pistol at a roadblock.

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Outside the Hammond home on Court Avenue in downtown Burns, an American flag was flying by the front door and a huge banner sat on the front lawn that read, "Thank you President Trump You Freed the Hammonds". Williams declined to comment on the pardons.

The Hammonds largely distanced themselves from the occupation and are part of a family known in the high desert of eastern OR for its generosity and community contributions.

At the time, Bundy told CNN that he wanted the federal government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge so "people can reclaim their resources".

A still from the January 2016 protest march against the Hammonds' re-imprisonment led by Ammon Bundy.

The White House in a statement on Tuesday called the order to return the two to prison "unjust". "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of executive clemency".

Dwight Hammond has served about three years of his sentence and Steven Hammond has served about four of his.

"Today is a win for justice, and an acknowledgment of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West", he said in a statement.

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