Protect the Harvest aids in release of Hammonds | TSLN.com

Protect the Harvest aids in release of Hammonds

In Long Beach, California. Dwight and Steven Hammond with Forrest Lucas, and Dave DuquetteGetting ready to head home to Burns, Oregon. Photo courtesy Protect the Harvest

Steven Hammond thought he was destined to miss his kids' birthdays for at least two more years. His dad, Dwight, feared he would celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary behind bars, or that he would leave prison as a widower.

Both ranchers, charged with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which carries with it a minimum five-year prison sentence, will celebrate this Christmas with their families. Dwight served almost three years for accidentally burning one acre of BLM-administered land and Steven served four years for doing the same on about 139 acres.

When the two men were charged and sentenced originally, in 2012, Judge Michael Hogen said it would "shock the conscience" of the court to require them to serve the full five years, and gave Steven about a year, and Dwight three months in prison. The federal prosecutor appealed and the court applied the full sentence for the two men, sending them back to prison in January of 2016 to complete their five-year sentences.

Ranchers and others across the nation cried foul, pointing out that the men had burned a minute amount of land compared to that burned by federal agencies, and that the land they burned was no worse for the wear.

Enter Protect the Harvest.

The organization can take much of credit for the Hammonds' freedom.

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The organization's founder, Forrest Lucas was the last person to talk to Dwight Hammond on the phone before the Oregon rancher walked into the California state penitentiary where he was to serve the remainder of a five-year sentence. "Mr. Lucas, if anyone is going to get us out of here, it's going to be you," Dwight told Lucas on that phone call.

Two-and-a half years later, the two sat together on Lucas's private jet en route to Oregon, celebrating Dwight and Steven's release.

Forrest Lucas, who grew up "dirt poor," in Indiana, the oldest of four children, went to work on a local cattle farm in his teen years. After graduating from high school, he worked manual labor jobs including driving a dump truck.

Three years past graduation, he purchased his first semi-truck and began long-haul trucking. In the next ten years, he bought more semi trucks and a convenience store.

According to the group's website, Forrest developed a fascination for mixing oils and additives to improve gas mileage and overall performance in his vehicles. This led to the creation of several products and the incorporation of Lucas Oil Products in 1989.

Over 100 Lucas Oil products are now on the market, and his business success set him up to finance a stadium for the Indianapolis Colts, an off-road car racing series, and more recently, efforts to combat the HSUS and other anti-agriculture groups.

"One thing Forrest knows well is marketing and branding. As a non profit, only eight years into it. We're really a fledgling group. We've blossomed from just being an antagonist to HSUS to being a very effective organization that does a lot more than just go poke the bear," said Duquette.

Just ask Dwight Hammond.

President Donald Trump, on July 10, signed Executive Grants of Clemency (full pardons) for Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond.

Dave Duquette, Protect the Harvest spokesman, said that he called Dwight and Susy Hammond the evening before they were to go to prison, which was the first time he'd ever spoken with them.

"I felt so bad for them and wanted to do something about it," said Duquette.

Dwight Hammond liked Lucas immediately. "I'd used his product for years and it was – it is a super oil additive that I used because it was so good. When he called me on Saturday (the day before Dwight left for prison) of course I barely made the connection between him and the oil product but we talked at length and he said that he felt very strongly about Protect the Harvest and ag in general that American was kind of forgetting where their food comes from."

"He felt that we were wronged and he was going to do what he could to help me," said Hammond.

Duquette quickly became close friends with the Hammonds – joining them in Dwight's home in Burns, Oregon, the day before the two men were to report to prison.

Duquette said that he and Protect the Harvest "did their homework" on the Hammond family before jumping in to help them. "We didn't want to get egg on our face," he said, adding that the family was the salt of the earth cattlemen with strong community ties that he expected them to be, and he couldn't help but wave the flag of support for the two men.

Protect the Harvest organized a nationwide movement to show President Trump the level of support that existed for pardoning the Hammonds and releasing them from prison. Through petition drives, communication with Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, and much more, Duquette and Protect the Harvest kept the issue top of mind for America's cattle industry and the executive branch.

According to Duquette, he's learned much about the country's pardon process. Rather than requesting a pardon (forgiveness of the charges), friends of the Hammonds filled out nearly 200 pages of paperwork to request clemency for the two men (clemency ends the sentence early). As with all clemency requests, the President of the United States has the authority to grant a full pardon if he so wishes, which he did in this case. The Hammonds were the sixth and seventh individuals pardoned by President Trump during his time in office.

Because the White House receives around 100,000 requests for commutations every month, shining a light on the Hammonds' paperwork was going to be key to the success of the "Free the Hammonds" effort.

Lucas had established a connection with fellow Indiana native, Vice President Mike Pence, years earlier, and was determined to communicate to his old friend how important it was to release the two ranchers.

"All the credit goes to the vice president and Forrest," said Duquette. "One, for Forrest listening to and understanding the case and wanting to be a big part of it, and two, for him being able to talk to the vice president and have him understand it and realize the importance of it." Duquette said Lucas has been a supporter since before Pence became the governor of Indiana, and had never sought a favor from him until he asked for the Hammond pardon. "When Forrest weighed in on it, with his background and integrity, the vice president knew it was something they needed to look into."

The journey that resulted in the Hammonds' pardon was "a long haul," said Duquette, saying he felt it was imminent for three or four weeks prior to the announcement. "It was the longest month of my life," he said.

Victory in the world where agriculture, personal and property rights, and politics collide is not new to either Duquette or Lucas.

According to Duquette, Protect the Harvest was created after his boss, Lucas, threw support behind Missouri's livestock industry in 2010 when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was attempting to gain support for proposition B, an initiative to outlaw "puppy mills."

Opponents of the bill approached the manager of a Lucas's Missouri cattle ranch and asked for permission to post a sign opposing the initiative. "Forrest said, 'oh yeah, I know who the HSUS is and what they are trying to do.'" Lucas got involved, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the proposition that was enjoying over 70 percent approval in the polls at the time. According to Duquette, the measure passed by only 51 percent, and Lucas convinced legislators to lessen the effect of the bill "so it was basically ineffective anyway," explains Duquette. "That was the whole start of Protect the Harvest. They had to put a name on it, and so they did."

Protect the Harvest has been an outspoken supporter of responsible horse slaughter and has worked at reinstating the practice in the U.S. Currently, the not-for-profit is working, through the legal system, to eliminate Proposition 2 that passed California in 2008. The initiative said that out-of-state egg producers had to comply with California standards – use larger cages, give chickens more room to roam, and more. "It was going to drive the other growers out of business," said Duquette. "HSUS is trying to legislate animal agriculture from California and Massachusetts."

While California egg growers "aren't happy about the lawsuit," he says that they will have standing to file a bill of their own to protect their industry without requiring different production practices across the country.

In Massachusetts the HSUS promoted Question 3 to implement new regulations on veal huts, hog gestation crates and cage free, said Duquette. "So they've got one state on each coast where they are saying 'you can't ship to us unless it's produced to our standards.'"

Duquette says some people – including many of California's ranchers – don't realize that the rule would set a standard that could soon affect cattle producers.

"If we allow this precedent to be set without a fight and without stopping it, they are coming for the cattle growers. If they think the cattle market is bad now, it will be really bad."

Protect the Harvest is working to help livestock producers under attack from nuisance lawsuits over smell, dust or nitrates from manure.

Protect the Harvest has been instrumental in helping Washington understand the unique needs of the livestock industry in regard to trucking as they continue to battle the ELD (electronic logging device) issue.

"It's a game that's been well thought-out and it's starting to take hold in the last couple of years and it needs to stop," he said, referring to HSUS measures to control and eliminate livestock production.

"Forrest cares deeply about our food supply and people in this country being able to eat. He also hates a bully and HSUS is a bully." Duquette added that the Hammonds were bullied, which is one of the biggest reasons Lucas took such a strong stance to help them.

With over a quarter of a million Facebook followers, Duquette feels like his group has become "quite the machine as far as our social media presence," and adds that they work with all organizations truly supporting production agriculture.

"Can you imagine if every faction of animal ag came together under one blanket? That's my personal goal and our goal at Protect the Harvest."

R-CALF USA convention speakers

Duquette was the featured speaker following R-CALF USA’s Saturday evening banquet.

Other speakers throughout R-CALF USA’s two-day convention covered a variety of topics from water rights to state Country of Origin Labeling.

The president of the American Anti-Trust Institute, Wayne Hage Jr., a Nevada rancher who plans to pipe his water 90 miles to his home property and graze the right of ways along the pipeline, Kimmi Lewis, a Colorado Republican representative who carried a COOL bill, an Australian cattle rancher named Brad Bellinger, David Muraskin, the R-CALF USA attorney in the checkoff lawsuit, Tracy Hunt, a Wyoming rancher who has researched the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and many other speakers covered topics relating to profitability and stay ability in the U.S. cattle industry.