This past week I have been watching the events in Oregon and reading all I can about the parties involved in this very complex situation. Actually there are two events that are sort of tied together. First you have the Hammonds, a father and son ranching together convicted on terrorism charges for setting prescribed burns and backfires on their ranch and the federal lands adjoining them. Then as an off shoot of that situation you have the standoff involving armed militia who has taken over a federal building on a wildlife preserve.
Before I go any further I would encourage each of you to do what I have done and read several articles on the situations. I also would encourage you to read them from different sources and different angles so you get all the sides. It is a fairly complex saga that goes back many years. Personally, I found the story to be quite disturbing as a rancher, citizen and land manager. To put it as simply as possible, the Hammonds first started a prescribed burn on their land that escaped and burned about 140 acres of federal land. Then in a separate event they set a back fire on federal land to protect their winter pasture from a wildfire started by lightening. The backfire saved their land and even succeeded in stopping the wildfire.
The Hammond’s ranch is surrounded by a federal wildlife preserve and they are one of the last private landowners in the area. The government officials in charge of the preserve would very much like to have the Hammond’s ranch. The Hammond’s have had their grazing rights on the federal lands around them taken away and even had their water rights challenged. Most of the adjoining landowners have given up and sold to the federal government and the private industry in the area has taken a huge hit because of the restrictions on mining and logging.
The Hammonds were tried on laws meant to deal with terrorists and they were convicted. However, the federal judge reduced their sentences from the mandatory five years to 12 months for the son and 3 months for the father. After they had served their sentences their case was appealed to another federal judge who reinstated the mandatory five year sentences. This past week the Hammonds reported to federal prison for the rest of their sentence.
Their story is one that worries me greatly. We rely on prescribed burns in Kansas and this might have an impact on them. But more importantly I think it highlights a disregard for private property rights. Now let’s be very clear and understand that not all federal employees or land managers are like those in Oregon. However, it does show what someone with an agenda can do. Again I encourage you to read the entire story and form your own opinion, but I found it very troubling.
Protests were organized in support of the Hammonds and from that an armed group of self-appointed militia seized control of an isolated federal building. Leading the militia are two Bundy brothers. The Bundy family gained attention a couple of years ago in a showdown with the BLM over grazing rights. I also encourage you to read that story and form your own opinions. It must be noted that the Hammond family has made a statement that the armed militia group does not represent them in any form.
There are the facts but the opinions around this entire are where things start to get murky. While I worry about government overstepping their bounds and the loss of personal freedoms and private property rights, I agree with the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Livestock Association in supporting the Hammonds and calling for a review of the case and the eventual release of the father and son from prison. I also agree that the taking of federal property through the armed occupation is not the right way to handle the situation.
All of the issues at stake are fundamental to our nation and the constitution. This great nation was founded on personal freedoms, liberty, justice and private property rights and we must insure they are protected. However, armed aggression is not the path that should be taken. I pray that the outcome of all of this is peaceful and calmer, cooler heads prevail.
This does highlight the need for each of us to become more involved in our government. Too long, too many have been satisfied to sit back and let a few make the rules and laws and ultimately carry out those rules and laws. We need to quit lamenting about what has happened and get involved peacefully in the process. Our government only works when an informed, active citizenry is involved. I still believe in this great nation, but it is time that we all work together to make sure it stays great.