U.S. Sues Property Rights Ranchers Over Grazing on Federal Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, August 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Justice Department Wednesday sued two ranchers and the estate of a third rancher for trespassing on federal lands in Nevada. The ranchers, both living and dead, are prominent property rights advocates who have battled the federal government for decades.

The civil complaint filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada accuses ranchers Wayne N. Hage, Benjamin J. Colvin, and the estate of E. Wayne Hage of intentionally grazing cattle on multiple occasions on federally managed lands in Esmeralda and Nye Counties.

The ranchers are alleged to have grazed livestock without federal permits despite repeated trespass notices from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, BLM, and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

In addition, the defendants are accused of receiving monetary compensation for unlawfully “leasing” lands owned by the United States to other ranchers for grazing purposes, despite having no property interest in these lands.

On 38 different occasions since 2004, BLM and Forest Service officers claim to have observed cattle owned by the defendants unlawfully grazing on federal property.

Since then, BLM and the Forest Service have sent multiple notices to the defendants notifying them of their unauthorized use of federal land.

The defendants have returned each of those notices to the BLM and the Forest Service. They contend that the federal government has no authority to regulate federal property and have refused to pay for their use of federal property.

The government points out that the Bureau of Land Management has the authority to manage, administer, and protect federal lands including regulating grazing under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The Forest Service regulates federally owned national forests under the Organic Administration Act of 1897.

The Justice Department is seeking to prohibit the continued unlawful grazing on federal property and to obtain reimbursement for that unauthorized use.

The lawsuit is the latest move in a long-running battle between these ranchers and the federal government over land use rights.

Wayne N. Hage is the son of the late E. Wayne Hage, owner of the Pine Creek Ranch in Nye County. The elder Hage fought with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from the time he purchased the ranch in 1978.

He claimed the government agencies denied him access to the ranch's vested water rights and range in an attempt to break the ranch economically to create a national park and wilderness area on the same land.

He authored "Storm Over Rangelands: Private Rights in Federal Lands," which for the first time articulated the issues of privately owned vested water rights, forage rights and rights-of-ways arising on federal lands.

In 1991, the federal government confiscated 104 head of cattle at gunpoint. In response, Hage filed a Fifth Amendment of the Constitution "takings" case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

In 2002 the court ruled that Hage had title to his vested water rights and the "fee lands" within the boundaries of his range allotments but rejected his claims regarding ownership of the grazing permit and the surface estate.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.