OPINION: Hammond pardons unpardonable

By  - July 20, 2018 - Originally published in the Missoulian.

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte hailed President Trump’s decision to pardon Dwight and Steven Hammond as “a win for property rights and our way of life.” U.S. Sen. Steve Daines agreed that “Trump made the right decision” in pardoning these Oregon ranchers whose arson convictions sparked the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation and advanced ongoing efforts to privatize America’s public lands. These and other statements raise serious questions about whose rights and way of life the representative and senator are working to protect.

Given the audacity and complete selfishness motivating their crimes, it’s hard to see how the Hammonds are pardon-worthy. In 2001, for example, the Hammonds convinced their teenage relative to help them start a wildfire with the bizarre motive of covering up their illegal killing and maiming of a deer herd. This was but one of three instances when the Hammonds set illegal blazes that scorched our public lands. The Hammonds also have a history of illegally grazing their cattle on public property.

So, whose rights and ways of life most concern Gianforte and Daines? As eastern Montanans who acquire our meat through hunting public lands, what about our right to have these lands legally and responsibly managed? The message seems to be that the ways of life of public-land recreationists are of trivial importance and the priority is instead providing impunity to criminals like the Hammonds and Bundys as they exploit and monopolize our shared heritage.

There was nothing draconian about the Hammond sentence. They were serving mandatory minimum five-year terms for their crimes. Americans have received 20-year sentences and even death sentences for starting wildfires. Therefore, we agree with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester that releasing the Hammonds “undermines our laws, our law enforcement officers, and all Americans who are the owners of our public lands.” To pardon vs. commute the sentence sends the wrong message. Pardoning the Hammonds was unpardonable.

Matt Rinella is a rangeland ecologist living in Miles City. Justin Schaaf lives in Fort Peck. Nick Siebrasse lives in Havre. All three are board members for the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
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