Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his home in Burns, Oregon on Jan. 2. Hammond was convicted of arson on federal in 2012, but protesters say his sentence was too harsh.

Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his home in Burns, Oregon on Jan. 2. Hammond was convicted of arson on federal in 2012, but protesters say his sentence was too harsh.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

The family whose conflict with the federal government inspired the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon lost a round in court Tuesday.

U.S. Judge Michael H. Simon issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the grazing permits issued to Dwight and Steven Hammond by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke before he left the Trump administration at the beginning of this year. 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 Harney County as a protest of the Hammonds’ treatment and other federal land-use decisions and policies.

President 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 noted that 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] Hammond’s 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 the management of cattle permits. 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 at hand at a court date in late June. His approval of the temporary block could indicate he thinks the plaintiffs have a chance at prevailing on the broader legal question of whether the Hammonds can have their grazing permits back.