The Dirt On Oregon

By Sarah Knott | Editor-in-Chief

For the past month, stories of armed ranchers staking out at a wildlife refuge have littered the news. At first, it seemed to be sensational; a story for the tabloids. However, the men have occupied Princeton, Ore. for over a month now and their tactics have risen to extremes. They’ve made poor choices in method of demonstrating their displeasure. Their demonstration shows lack of planning and disrespect for things that don’t belong to them. In case you’ve missed it, here are the basic details:

On the morning of Jan. 2, a large group of peaceful protestors gathered outside of the Harney County Sheriff’s office to protest the imprisonment of two ranchmen. Dwight Hammond and his son Steve Hammond were indicted on two charges of terrorism by arson reported by the Bureau of Land Management. In 2001 and 2006, the Hammonds started fires on their land -- one was to help heal the land, and the other was to serve as a backfire to put out a wildfire started by several lightning strikes. While the backfire was successful, the prescribed burn scorched 127 acres of public land and the Hammonds had to put it out by themselves. Dwight and Steve Hammond were indicted because of these two incidents and sentenced to five years each in federal prison. While this may seem a bit unreasonable at a glance, a sinister undertone explains the arrest of the ranchers.

The BLM (the organization that filed the charges) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service had harassed ranchers in the area, including the Hammonds, for over a decade in attempt to buy their land. These efforts included revoking grazing permits without reason, causing many ranchers to be forced to leave. In addition, individuals from the Malheur Wildlife Refuge redirected the water irrigation systems ranchers had built for the meadows. The water instead flowed into the Malheur Lakes, and resulted in flooding. The floods resulted in the destruction of 31 homes, leaving many families with no choice but to sell their property to the BLM. The Hammonds are one of the last families left in the area.

Enter Ammon Bundy and his brothers. The trio was all too aware of the situations between the Hammonds and local land and wildlife services. They, along with other ranchers in the area, armed themselves and attended the peaceful protest outside of the Harney County Sheriff’s office. That afternoon, the group split off from the protesters and made their way over to Malheur Wildlife Refuge, which was closed for the holidays. They stationed themselves there and released a statement that vowed they’d be there until the Hammonds were free or were served justice -- whichever came first. While the motives were fairly sound, taking over a government building was a little more than drastic.

The weeks following were fairly uneventful. The only issue that really came up was a video released of the men going through Paiute artifacts. While it was an isolated event, the lack of consideration by the men cannot be ignored -- they rifled through boxes, handled artifacts without gloves on, and even invited the Paiute to reclaim their belongings. Tribal chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique declined the offer, stating that treaties and agreements had been signed entrusting the refuge with the artifacts.

On Jan. 27 a police chase following a van full of militiamen resulted in the death of Robert Finicum, a public figure in the standoff since the beginning. After running into a police roadblock and hitting an officer as he veered off the road, Finicum exited the vehicle and attempted to draw his weapon twice. As a result, officers fired five shots resulting in Finicum’s death. 

Residents in the surrounding county were upset due to the standoff turning into something of a gun show. They felt that the actions of the men had lost their point entirely. The Hammonds plight was not the focus of many statements and videos released to the public; the standoff’s intent was lost in an angry rebuff to the federal government. However, it continues. 

For more information www.cnn.com and www.pbs.org continue following this news story.