aside THE LIFE OF RANCHERS VS THE GOVERNMENT

Dwight Hammond (R) and Steven Hammond (L)
Dwight Hammond (R) and Steven Hammond (L)

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.

Ammon Bundy
Ammon Bundy

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.

Keith Nantz
Keith Nantz

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.”

Ranching Standoff

 

“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.”

Keith Nantz
Keith Nantz

“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.”

Keith Nantz
Keith Nantz

 

“Utilizing federal land requires ranchers to follow an unfair, complicated and constantly evolving set of rules. For example, a federal government agency might decide that it wants to limit the number of days a rancher can graze their cattle to protect a certain endangered plant or animal species, or they might unilaterally decide that ranchers can’t use as much water as they need because of a fight over water rights. Or they might take over land that once belonged to the state or private individuals, imposing an entirely new set of restrictions.”

“I saw this  play out firsthand when the federal government considered listing the sage grouse, a chicken-like bird, as endangered. That regulation would have shrunk the amount of land where ranchers could graze cattle, putting many out of business and decimating the industry. To avoid this, ranchers like myself and local officials spent months meeting with federal officials looking for compromise. We ultimately found middle ground. But we already have an enormous workload in our daily lives. The pressure of having to drop everything to lobby against a rule (which happens more often than you’d think) is a tremendous burden.”

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“Most of the time, those regulations are written by people with no agriculture experience, and little understanding of what it takes to produce our nation’s food. The agencies that control these lands can add burdensome regulations at any time. Often, they will begin aggressively enforcing them before ranchers have a chance to adjust.”

“This forces us to either find new grazing land, reduce the size of our herd or sell out completely. In rural communities, this can have a catastrophic effect on the local economy and environment. Ranching is a billion dollar industry in Oregon. Overall, agriculture accounts for 15 percent of the state’s economic activity and 12 percent of the state’s employment. The income of a local farm generates double the money for the local economy as a supermarket’s income in the same area, according to the London-based New Economics Foundation.”

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“The siege on our industry has only increased under the Obama administration. Officials are effectively regulating us out of business by enforcing a string of unprecedented environmental restrictions. In Malhuer county (next to Harney county, where the current standoff is taking place), the Obama administration is considering a measure that will turn 2.5 million acres of federal land into a “national monument,” a move that would severely restrict grazing. These restrictions would cause a huge economic downturn for those communities.”

“These decisions are being made by people who are four to five generations removed from food production. The rule-makers don’t quite understand our industry, and are being spurred on by extreme environmentalist groups asking for unreasonable policy changes.”

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“It’s not that I don’t care what the environmental community wants. In every part of my business, I try to find a balance between economics, mother nature and our culture. I know that if we don’t treat our land properly, we will go out of business by our own hands. It is of utmost importance for us to be true conservationists if we want to continue producing the most nutritious and safest protein in the world.”

“But too often, I’m not given the autonomy to do so. I’m given rules, not a conversation about how ranchers and government officials and environmentalists might be able to work together. That’s an approach that fails everyone.”

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6 comments

  1. Widely unknown perspective. Reminds of guy who was trying to run his sandwich shop. He could never stay in operation due to regulations(certainly needed in food industry) but as it is the inspector’s job to find something wrong even the silliest petty things but if the inspector was not producing violations his agency would feel he was not doing his job. On the other hand because of the unethical and corrupt practices in the banking industry I’d like to see a federal agent armed with a .45 assigned to every banker in the industry. The agent should be ordered to keep the gun at the banker’s head and to shoot if the banker even sneezes. It would probably be prudent for the federal agent to shoot the banker if the agent himself sneezes.

    • It does seem that it would be prudent for the government workers and their bosses to be reminded that they are employed and paid by taxpayers which includes the rancher and the owner of the small sandwich business operation. If the government collaborated instead of being arbitrary, they would be more effective. Save the hard line for the egregious offenders.

      The bankers and Wall Street are crying over current government regulations but they get no empathy from the public.

  2. I see his point of view, however I also see the point of view of the rest of us out here. Those of us that believe preserving the land, paying taxes, following the rules and all the rest of it is important. Sorry, what I see in Oregon right now is a whole bunch of people who don’t believe they should have to follow the rules, pay taxes, or act like civilized adults within a society that expects certain behaviors of adults.

    I have no sympathy for the Bundy’s of the world.

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