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The occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, by a group led by Ammon Bundy—yes, of those Bundys—was supposed to have focused attention on the plight of a rancher family that has been fighting decades-long efforts by federal officials to drive them off their land. Instead, this dramatic act of civil disobedience has done the opposite: amid debates over the Bundy family, their tactics, and ideology, the focus has been taken off the Hammond family, and their struggle to preserve their land and their way of life has been largely obscured.
This is their story.
Dwight - Hammond - Wife - Susan - Ranch
Dwight Hammond and his wife Susan bought their ranch in 1964. The Hammond ranch consists of 6,000 acres, grazing rights in four areas on public land, and rights at three separate water sources. They live in a small ranch house—a beautiful structure of stone and hand-hewn wood—on the property.
The land sits in Oregon’s Harney Basin, an area first settled at the tail end of the 19th century. While the narrative we are getting in the media depicts the ranchers as despoilers of the land, implacable enemies of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, the true history of the region shows that the “cowboys” who lived there and ran as many as 300,000 head of cattle were in fact its best defenders. Without them, there would be no Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
Cattlemen - Irrigation - System - Order - Herds
As the cattlemen developed an elaborate irrigation system in order to feed their herds, what had been a huge swampland surrounding Malheur Lake was transformed into rolling meadows, wildlife flocked to the area, and it became a favored spot for migratory birds. In 1913, however, the Oregon state legislature passed the Thompson Act, which authorized anyone who won approval from the Land Board to drain any lake and “reclaim” it for development....
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