A trial gets underway this week in Pendleton for two Eastern Oregon ranchers accused of illegally setting fire to government rangelands. Federal prosecutors allege Dwight Lincoln Hammond Junior and his son Steven Dwight Hammond conspired to destroy government property.
The Hammond family owns and operates a cattle ranch near the eastern Oregon community of Diamond.
Prosecutors have suggested it was anger over the Bureau of Land Management's stewardship of public lands that led the Hammonds to allegedly commit arson. The BLM lights fires as part of a prescribed burn program. It's meant to improve habitat, restore ecosystems and reduce the risk of wildfire. But according to the initial indictment, the defendants had publicly expressed frustration about that program - specifically the environmental regulations that cause the process to quote "take too long".
Father and son allegedly used an airplane pick their targets. The indictment lays out 9 different counts - including conspiracy, using fire to destroy government property and witness tampering.
Both defendants have entered pleas of "not guilty". The trial is expected to last about three weeks.