Rancher Right, Federal Agencies Wrong

By National Center for Public Pol... | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

(Editor's Note: The following is the 58th of 100 stories regarding government regulation from the book Shattered Dreams, written by the National Center for Public Policy Research. CNSNews.com will publish an additional story each day.)

In 1978, Wayne Hage and his late wife, Jean, began operating a Nevada cattle-ranch with 2,000 head of cattle. Over the next 12 years, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management accused them of violations that included having their cattle in impermissible areas and not maintaining their fences.

Refuting government claims, Hage provided eyewitnesses who saw Forest Service employees move the Hages' cattle into impermissible areas and pointed out that the fence the Forest Service said wasn't properly maintained was missing a single staple. The government later dropped the charges of illegal grazing.

By 1991, the Hages' grazing permits had either been cancelled, shortened or suspended by the government to the point that they were forced out of the cattle business. Hage filed a claim in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims asserting that the government had created a "taking" by denying him the use of his property. Jean Hage passed away after suffering a heart attack and two strokes that Wayne attributes to the stress of the legal battle.

In January 2002, Senior Judge Loren Smith issued his "Findings of Fact" with respect to the property rights aspect of the case. He concluded that Hage, who is now married to former U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage, owned extensive water rights on federal grazing allotments adjacent to his privately-owned land. In addition, Judge Smith ruled that Hage owned the ditch right-of-ways and the land for 50 feet on either side of the ditches, so his cattle could graze there.

In his ruling, Judge Smith said: "The government cannot cancel a grazing permit and then prohibit the plaintiffs from accessing the water to redirect it to another place of valid beneficial use. The plaintiffs have a right to go onto the land and divert the water."

While this constitutes a major victory for Western ranchers, Hage must still prove that government action took away his rights. If he proves that, a judge must determine how much compensation Hage is due.

Source: Stewards of the Range, McQuaid, Metzler, Bedford & VanZandt, LLP

Copyright 2003, National Center for Public Policy Research