By ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A US Forest Service employee in Oregon was arrested this week by a county sheriff after a planned burn in a national forest spread onto private land.
It was the latest episode to highlight simmering tensions in conservative, rural eastern Oregon over the management of federal lands. That tension exploded in 2016 with the takeover by armed right-wing extremists of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland. One of the extremist leaders was killed by law enforcement officers at a roadblock.
Rick Snodgrass, the US Forest Service “burn chief,” was arrested Wednesday and transported to the Grant County Jail, where he was conditionally released, District Attorney Jim Carpenter said in a statement.
Carpenter warned that Snodgrass’s federal job “will not protect him if he is found to have acted recklessly.”
“The fact that the USFS was conducting a prescribed burn may actually raise, rather than lower, the standard that Snodgrass will be held to,” the prosecutor said.
Prescribed burns are set intentionally and under carefully controlled conditions to clear brush, pine needle beds, and other surface fuels that make forests more prone to wildfires.
Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley said in a statement that the controlled burn escaped US Forest Service land on a hot day Wednesday and burned about 20 acres of land belonging to Holiday Ranches.
McKinley’s initial investigation led the sheriff to believe he had probable cause to arrest Snodgrass, who oversaw the planned burn, for reckless burning, Carpenter said.
“This case will be reviewed once the investigation is complete and, if appropriate, Snodgrass will be charged,” McKinley said.
Forest Service spokesman Jon McMillan called the situation “very unusual” but declined to comment further on the arrest due to the potential for legal proceedings.
Snodgrass was conducting an approved firefighting operation in the Malheur National Forest, McMillan said Friday.
“We are waiting to see if he will have to go to court for a criminal reckless burning offense,” McMillan said. “So that’s why we’re not commenting right now.”
The takeover of the wildlife refuge in adjacent Harney County was staged by right-wing militants to protest the treatment of ranchers Steven Hammond and his father, Dwight, who were convicted of arson for burning federal grazing land and sent to mandatory five-year prison term. year sentences.
That led to the armed occupation of the shelter for 41 days. Occupant LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police. They say he picked up a gun at a roadblock along a snowy road.
Former President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds in 2018, allowing them to be released from federal prison.
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