SCOTUS Has Ruled (Twice!) That Malheur Refuge Belongs To the Feds

ADDS DETAILS OF SOME VEHICLES SEEN AT THE ENTRANCE - An sign of the National Wildlife Refuge System is seen at an entry of the wildlife refuge, where some vehicles are seen used to block access to the inside of the r... ADDS DETAILS OF SOME VEHICLES SEEN AT THE ENTRANCE - An sign of the National Wildlife Refuge System is seen at an entry of the wildlife refuge, where some vehicles are seen used to block access to the inside of the refuge, about 30 miles southeast of Burns, Ore., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Armed protesters are occupying a building at the national wildlife refuge and asking militia members around the country to join them. The protesters went to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday following a peaceful rally in support of two Oregon ranchers facing additional prison time for arson. (Les Zaitz/The Oregonian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT MORE LESS
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Long before a group of armed militiamen stormed the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, the Supreme Court ruled –twice in fact– that the land on the preserve had always belonged to the federal government.

The armed group of squatters at the preserve today have claimed they are protesting the federal government’s acquisition of private land, but according to a report from the Oregonian, the preserve never fell out of the government’s control.

The Supreme Court ruled on the case both in 1902 and again in 1935, proof that locals have long challenged the federal government’s presumption of ownership. But in both cases, the federal government was found to be in possession of the land. The Hammond Family, who inspired the militia’s takeover of the reserve, had a long history of tension with the refuge. Dwight Hammond gave death threats on at least four occasions to refuge managers, and fights over water rights between the family and the refuge were common. Both Dwight and Steven Hammond are currently serving five-year-sentences for arson on federal lands.

But, the Oregonian has set the record straight that “before Oregon was admitted to statehood, the United States is shown to have acquired title which it has never in terms conveyed away,” Justice Harlan Stone wrote in 1935.

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