Grazing rights rescinded for controversial Oregon ranchers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Interior on Friday rescinded a January Trump administration decision to grant grazing allotments to an Oregon ranching family whose members were convicted of arson in a court battle that triggered the takeover of a federal wildlife refuge by right-wing extremists.

The new memo from the Interior secretary’s office found that the Trump administration hadn’t allowed for sufficient time to receive and consider public challenges to the permit for Hammond Ranches Inc. It directed the Bureau of Land Management to further consider the matter.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the latest action came just days before the cattle were expected to be turned out on public lands neighboring the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.

Steven Hammond, co-owner of the ranch, and his father, Dwight, were both convicted of arson for setting fire to range land and sent to prison for mandatory five-year sentences.

That led to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days in 2016. One occupier was shot dead by Oregon State Police. They say he reached for a pistol at a roadblock.

President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds in 2018, allowing them to be freed from prison. In 2014, when Barack Obama was president, the BLM denied Hammond Ranches a grazing permit renewal, saying it “does not have a satisfactory record of performance” and cited numerous incidents of arson.

W. Alan Schroeder, the attorney representing Hammond Ranches, declined comment to The Oregonian/OregonLive on Friday’s development.

Four environmental advocacy groups on Thursday sued the Interior secretary and BLM, saying last month’s permit approval on the final day of the Trump administration was “tainted by political influence” and that a “rushed and truncated public process” cut out opportunities for the public participation required by law.

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