Kris Millgate, Tight Line Media
It’s unclear how far along those talks are in producing an agreement, but Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Jody Weil said the talks have been underway since May 2015.
“Before the Hammonds were resentenced (for arson in October 2015), we started having conversations with the Hammonds,” said Weil. “We’re certainly talking to the Hammonds’ attorney still.”
“It’s a legal process,” Weil said. “I can’t comment on that.”
Calls to the Hammond family were not returned, but Oregon Cattlemen’s Association President John O’Keeffe confirmed his organization is also part of the negotiations.
“It’s an ongoing effort and discussion with the BLM,” said O’Keeffe. “When it’s all over with, I can talk about it.”
O’Keeffe said the Cattlemen’s Association is “hopeful” the Hammonds’ grazing rights will be restored.
Armed militants have cited the revocation of grazing rights for the family of Dwight and Steven Hammond as one of the reasons they’ve occupied the refuge since Jan. 2. But a federal source told OPB the occupation is complicating that discussion, along with a pending appeal in front of a Department of Interior appeals board.
In a 21-page BLM ruling issued in 2014 that explained the denial of grazing rights, District Manager Brendan Cain wrote that the arsons were “part of a pattern of conduct by the Hammond Ranches, Inc.’s owners … attempting to improve livestock forage at the risk of human life.”
However, even if the BLM allowed the Hammond family to again graze cattle on the land, the occupiers said that permission wouldn’t be enough to get the militants to leave the refuge.
“Absolutely not,” militant leader Ammon Bundy said Thursday, “because the BLM does not have authority to be here. They do not have the authority to be managing the lands and resources inside the state.”