Hammonds had law enforcement issues long before the arson charges

They were almost charged with a felony in 1994-

Today Dwight and Steve Hammond are said to be reporting back to prison to finish their resentenced terms.

There is a debate in the media whether their two convicted arsons were all that serious. It turns out that is not the entire history of the Hammonds and their operation next to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. It looks like the relationship has hardly been smooth. In fact, email from an Oregon conservationist says that even last summer cow flops from trespass Hammond cattle were in stinking evidence on and about the Refuge headquarters (now occupied by the Bundy bunch).

Back in 1994 in an effort to deal with the Hammond’s trespass cattle, the refuge tried to build a fence to keep the cattle out of the refuge. According to the High Country News, Hammond and a son physically blocked the fence construction, and they were taken into custody by armed federal agents.

The story says “The Hammonds were charged with two counts each of felony “disturbing and interfering with” federal officials or federal contractors. The Hammonds spent one night in the Deschutes County Jail in Bend, and a second night behind bars in Portland before they were hauled before a federal magistrate and released without bail.”

Within a week, 4-500 ranch supporters came to a rally in Burns. The main speaker was Chuck Cushman, a rabble rousing “wise use” activitist.

Cushman soon tried to organize “a flood” of calls to federal agents and refuge personnel. Their names and photos were given out. Cushman reportedly said, “We have no way to fight back other than to make them pariahs in their community.” Death threats were recorded.

According to the story,

Picking up the theme, the Oregon Lands Coalition declared in a recent newsletter, “It’s time to get out the yellow ribbons – this is a hostage situation!”

On Aug. 11, Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore., weighed in on the Hammonds’ behalf in a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. “The acts of your agents last week cause my constituents to lose faith in their government,” wrote Smith, who was under the erroneous impression that Hammond was arrested at his home rather than on refuge land.

Representative Smith was a long time anti-conservation member of Congress.

Several days later,  the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon reduced the charges against the Hammonds from felonies carrying a maximum penalty of three years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine to misdemeanors.

There is more, read the 1994  High Country News article.

The point is there has long been contention over this. The arson charges were not the first criminal charges brought. Secondly, anti-conservation (should we use current language and call them “anti-government”?) activists set the stage for this kind of “stunt,” or is it “occupation to the death,” now being waged by the Bundy group.

Extralegal pressure from ranching interests helped prepare the way, set the stage, change the culture of discourse, on day-to-day grazing and wildlife management disagreements and conflicts.



  1. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    You are telling a very small portion of the story which dates back to the 70’s. The abuses of the NWF are appalling.

  2. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    Should have said USFWS, not NWF.

  3. Yvette Avatar

    Ken, would you write someone on what the USFWS did that was abusive and provide verification?

  4. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Sounds like the Hammonds were getting free grazing on the refuge just like the Bundys are getting free grazing in Nevada.
    Oregon and Idaho laws require that land owners must fence their land to keep rancher’s cows out rather than requiring the ranchers to fence their cattle in. Idaho ranchers that have large federal grazing leases often get to graze included Idaho state sections for free because the state can’t afford to fence the cows out.

  5. snaildarter Avatar

    The Hammonds like Bundy are just thieves they need to go back to jail. They have no respect for nature or their government. The real motive of these gun freaks is the overthrow of the Federal government not property rights. This whole movement is very scary.

  6. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Thought you might find this paper interesting regarding Mud lake – the connecting channel between Malheur and Harney lakes in the MNWR.

    1. Yvette Avatar

      That was interesting, Barb! Thank you. I’m going to have to put Malheur NWR on my bucket list of places to see.

  7. Larry Thorngren Avatar


    Here is the indictment on the arson charges. It looks like the government was too lenient on the sentencing. These guys should have been put away for twenty years.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan