Major Victory in Hage v.
Nevada 1/31/02 - The long anticipated final decision on the property rights at issue in Hage v. United States, the takings case filed by Nevada ranchers, the Wayne Hage family, has finally been issued by Senior Judge, Loren A. Smith. On January 29th, Smith ruled Hage owns extensive property rights on his grazing allotments, specifically water rights, 1866 Act ditch rights of way, the right to have their livestock consume the forage adjacent to their waters and ditches and the right of access thereto.
The Hages had filed their takings claim against the US
Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in 1991 after excessive
regulations and physical takings of their property had run them out of
business. They filed their case in the US Court of Federal Claims in
Washington DC, placing the important question before the courts what
property rights do ranchers own on their grazing allotments?
In addressing the issue of the Hage's access to their water rights, Judge Smith's opinion stated the following:
"The Government cannot deny citizens access to their vested water rights without providing a way for them to divert that water to another beneficial purpose if one exists. 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."
The court did rule against Hage's argument that he owned the surface estate of his allotments, but plaintiffs are not troubled by the courts position. "When you combine everything the court has ruled that we own in this final decision, it is clear that the key property rights essential to a western livestock grazing operation are recognized," noted plaintiff Wayne Hage.
The court also clarified the relationship between the rancher and the grazing permit system by stating the grazing permit is a license and the government has the authority to exercise reasonable regulations. However, because of this landmark decision, ranchers now may be protected from abusive grazing regulations if they cause the taking of access to the ranchers' 1866 Act ditch rights of ways or water rights.
"For the first time in history, a federal court has defined the balance between the western ranchers property rights and the governments ability to regulate," explained Bedford. "This decision is a major step forward for the security of federal land ranchers."
The court has set up an aggressive briefing schedule to complete the final phase of the case: determining whether the Hage's property rights as determined in the courts Final Decision were taken by the government. If the Hages prevail in this final stage compensation will be awarded to them for the taking of their property, and the rights of every other rancher affirmed in this decision will have the same protection.
"For ten years Stewards and its members have been working towards the protection of ranchers property rights," commented Frank Duran, president of Stewards of the Range. Stewards is the organization that has funded and supported this case since it's filing in 1991. "We now have the most important legal precedent ever set in modern times to protect these rights, and we look forward to wining the next and final round, proving the government must compensate western ranchers when their actions go too far."
For more information, contact: Ladd Bedford - 415.905.0200, Margaret Gabbard - 512-365-8038 or Wayne Hage - 208-855-0707
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