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Court Smacks Down BLM for Renewing Hammonds Permits

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Photo of Steens Mountain by BLM

December 20, 2019

From the very minute we learned about this last year, Western Watersheds Project has known that then-Secretary Ryan Zinke broke the law when he renewed the Hammonds Ranches grazing permits on his very last day in office. We knew that this was a corrupt, political, and unlawful way to manage public lands.

Today, we won in court!

A federal judge today overturned the Trump administration’s renewal of the Hammond Ranches’ livestock-grazing permit. The ruling throws out the ranchers’ permit on four allotments in eastern Oregon until further notice. This follows the temporary restraining order and partial injunction in the case that we won last summer.

Because of Hammond Ranches’ pattern of violating federal rules and the terms of its permit that disqualified it from renewal, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon found that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to renew the permit “was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, not rationally connected to the facts before the agency, inconsistent with the governing statutes and regulations, and an unexplained change in agency practice and procedure.”

Western Watersheds Project and our members believe that when ranchers break the law and abuse public lands, they should lose their grazing permit every time. Giving grazing leases to ranchers who violate the terms and conditions of their permits encourages the livestock industry to continue abusing public lands and degrading habitat for native fish and wildlife, and fans the flames of extremism, the likes of which resulted in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge debacle.

The BLM revoked the Hammonds Ranches’ grazing permits in 2014 after Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of arson on federal lands in 2012. The permittees appealed the decision and the Oregon BLM stood firm. Then on January 2, 2019, Zinke abruptly overruled the local BLM and renewed the permit. By the time the BLM employees came back to work after the government shutdown, they had just a few days to follow their boss’ orders and renew the same permits they had been fighting against since 2014.

So we’re savoring this victory that restores the rule of law to public lands management and provides the proper process for the agency to consider livestock grazing’s impacts on the sensitive resources of Steens Mountain, including sage-grouse and redband trout. These are places and species worth fighting for!

Our allies at WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity helped us win this fight, and the expert testimony of some of the West’s top scientists was crucial in showing the court the potential for harm.

Thank you to the whole team that made this happen!  

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