Grazing permits blocked for ranchers in Oregon land dispute

June 5, 2019
File - In this July 11, 2018, file photo, rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. is embraced by his wife Susie Hammond after arriving by private jet at the Burns Municipal Airport in Burns, Ore. Hammond and his son Steven, convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land in Oregon, were pardoned by President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Hammonds' grazing permits after objections by environmentalists. (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge has blocked the grazing permits issued to father and son ranchers who were the focus of a battle about public land.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that Judge Michael H. Simon issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday, halting the permits granted to Dwight and Steven Hammond by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke before he left the administration of President Donald Trump.

Environmental groups had sued over the permits, arguing they were granted in violation of Bureau of Land Management policies.

The Hammonds served jail time for setting fires on federal pastures in Eastern Oregon. They became a cause celebre for brothers Ryan and Ammon Bundy in 2016 when a federal judge brought the Hammonds back to jail to serve a longer sentence.

The Bundys led a takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon as a protest of federal land-use decisions and policies.

President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds last year. And on Jan. 2, Zinke approved grazing permits for the father and son.

In their complaint, environmental groups led by Western Watersheds Project said Zinke issued the permits on his last day in office and that granting the permits overrode environmental concerns with the land and the Hammonds’ use of it.

The Hammonds’ “past violations of the terms and conditions of their livestock grazing permit included arson during extreme fire weather situations that resulted in the destruction of important habitat for greater sage grouse and the spread of the fire-prone invasive weed cheatgrass,” the groups argued in their May 13 complaint.

Government attorneys countered that the environmental groups were attempting to interrupt “longstanding practice” involving cattle permit management. They argued the plaintiffs had a high bar to climb when attempting to “prevent cattle from moving from one allotment to another.”

Simon granted a temporary restraining order and will revisit the legal issues in late June.

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