Citizen backlash against the federal government’s land use in Oregon has been receiving wall-to-wall media coverage lately.
Most of the backlash centers around Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammonds, who were originally sentenced to one year in prison for inadvertently burning 140 acres of property on federal land. The fires occurred in 2001 and 2006. The first fire, according to the Hammonds, was meant to deal with an “invasive plant species on their land”; the second was a “back burn” intended to protect the Hammonds’ property from a lightning fire that started during the summer of 2006.
However, the Hammonds’ original sentencing in U.S. District was later retried by the Department of Justice; a different U.S. District Judge sentenced the two ranchers to 5 years in prison in October 2015.
A similar case in Arkansas occurred in 2010, although it hasn’t received as much media coverage.
In this instance, the U.S. Forest Service conducted a controlled burn in Logan County, Ark., which allegedly spread onto private land owned by Deltic Timber Corporation, damaging 174 acres of 2-3 year old pine trees and $49,519.28 in property damage, according to Deltic.
Compare: in Oregon, ranchers allegedly damage 140 acres of land owned by the federal government and are resentenced to 5 years in prison. But in Arkansas, private property owners haven’t even been able to receive payment from the federal government for alleged damages to 174 acres of private land.
Congressman Bruce Westerman, who represents Logan County, noted the hypocrisy of the federal government recently.
Westerman said in a statement:
On October 1, 2010, Deltic submitted Standard Form 95-108, as required under the Federal Tort Claims Act to receive compensation. More than five years later, Deltic has yet to receive a response from DOJ, and DOJ now allegedly refuses to even speak with Deltic about this matter. It is puzzling that DOJ can find the time and manpower to appeal a prison sentence for two individuals who damaged federal land when a prescribed burn crossed onto public land, but refuses to respond to my constituents over a five-year period when a similar federal liability is in question.”
Westerman went on to say that the Justice Department
“must meet its responsibilities, including paying back damages caused by federal actions, if liable. This is a glaring example of a slow federal response to the needs of the American people. We simply ask that DOJ give Deltic a prompt answer as to whether the federal government owes them any compensation.
If the federal government is going to lock Oregon ranchers in prison for 5 years (after they’ve already spent a year in prison for a previous sentence) for alleged damages to federal land, you’d think that — at a minimum — they’d at least be able to respond to private property owners in Arkansas when the federal government is responsible for damaging private lands.
I think the conclusion is obvious: this kind of miscarriage of justice would happen far less often if the federal government could just reduce the massive amount of land it owns in the United States.