After I posted a blog about the Hammond family and the January/ February 2016 Bundys’ armed militia standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, I started looking for a case which best exemplifies the plight of the rancher when dealing with the federal government.
There is case to be made for having empathy or not towards the complicated case regarding Dwight and Steven Hammond regarding their ranch. In 2012, they were convicted for setting fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, the later being a defensive maneuver. In late 2015, they were ordered back to prison to serve more time. They turned themselves in on 1/4/16 with little hope for any reprieve. What happened is that the lower court judge had imposed a sentence in 2012 which he deemed to be fair and just and thus, the Hammonds served their time. Because the prosecutor disagreed with the lower court’s decision, he appealed to the appellate court and won. When the supreme court declined to review this case, the Hammonds knew that they were going back to jail to serve the remainder of their 5 year mandatory minimum term.
The community is up in arms because they feel this handling by the government was not been above board. Unfortunately, like many others in our prisons, the ranchers fell victim to the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines which strips the judge from being able to use his/ her judgment.
Hypothetically, this is what happens.When the federal prosecutors charge, all too often they seize on language in a statute –(for example) like destruction of US property by fire as an act of terrorism. And then they apply it to lesser type criminal activity. Finally, they ask for the stiffest sentence allowed, no matter how unfair the end result. And if the law calls for a mandatory minimum prison time, that just helps the prosecutors to look like they are doing their job well.
Anyway, I found the perfect story about the plight of the rancher in a 1/8/16 Washington Post op-ed piece, penned by Keith Nantz, titled: “I’m an Oregon rancher. Here’s what you don’t understand about the Bundy standoff.”
Here is Mr. Nantz’s written perspective, as a ranch manager at Dillon Land and Cattle in Maupin, Oregon:
“While I don’t agree with the occupiers’ tactics, I sympathize with their position. Being a rancher was always challenging. And it has become increasingly difficult under the Obama administration.”
“I grew up in a ranching community in northeast Oregon. Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to be a rancher. After eight years as a firefighter, I’d saved enough to start my own business. I wanted to work on the land, raising delicious, wholesome beef for our growing population.”
“For almost a decade, I’ve done just that. Most days, I’m up before the sun rises. I spend my mornings tending to my horses, dogs and livestock. In the winter, when it’s bitter cold, I’m outside with my cattle, making sure their water isn’t frozen and that they’re properly fed. In the summer, I often work 15-hour days, cultivating my crops and tending to the animals. In the afternoons, I’m in my office, reaching out to customers and handling the ranch’s business side. Over the course of a given day, I act as a vet, a mechanic, an agronomist and accountant.”
“I love the work, but it’s grueling. As a rancher, I’m always one bad year away from financial disaster. Every purchase I make — from new cows ($2,000 each) to a new piece of equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — is a major investment. And my ranch operates on very slim margins, so I have to be savvy to make ends meet.”
“Money isn’t the only challenge. Raising cattle requires a lot of land, much more than most ranchers can afford to own outright. I lease about a third of the space I use from private owners. But most ranchers aren’t so lucky. The federal government controls a huge amount of land in the west (more than 50% in some states, like Oregon), and many ranchers must lease that space to create a sustainable operation.”