MONTANA RANCHER FIGHTS FEDERAL DENIAL OF PROPERTY RIGHTS
March 11, 2002 -
DENVER, CO. A Montana rancher who was denied ownership rights by the U.S. Forest Service filed a lawsuit today in federal district court in Montana. Stephen Roth of Hamilton, Montana, asserts that because of two specific acts of Congress, he owns the Tamarack Dam and Reservoir and that the Forest Service may not infringe upon his use of the Dam and the water that it provides to his ranch in Ravalli County. To confirm his property rights, he has filed suit seeking to quiet title against the United States.
“It is unfortunate that the Forest Service has made it necessary for an American citizen to go to court to confirm what everyone familiar with the facts of this case already knows,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents Roth. “Land records, including documents generated by and in the possession of the Forest Service itself, confirm that Mr. Roth has valid existing rights that may not be denied. Nonetheless, the Forest Service has demanded that he sign away his rights, which he refuses to do. Sadly, it appears that the Forest Service is engaged in a region-wide attempt to terminate valid existing rights such as those held by Mr. Roth and that he is being made to suffer for that ill-advised decision.”
The Tamarack Dam and Reservoir, which lie within the Bitterroot National Forest and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area in west central Montana along the Idaho border, was constructed in the late 1800’s. The water impounded by the Dam was applied to beneficial use by Roth’s predecessor and has been applied to beneficial use ever since. Although the Bitterroot National Forest was created in 1897, an 1866 Act of Congress protected any water-related facilities constructed prior to that date. In addition, in 1891, Congress passed the General Right of Way Act, which provided for rights-of-way through public or reserved lands for the purpose of building irrigation and reservoir systems. Moreover, applicable Federal Statutes contain provisions that protect valid existing rights, such as those held by Roth.
For many years, Roth’s ownership of the Dam and Reservoir were recognized by the Forest Service. However, recently the Forest Service refused to recognize Roth’s rights. Instead, the Forest Service gave Roth an ultimatum demanding that he sign either a new special use permit that would require the payment of an annual fee or an easement that would cause him to relinquish his rights under the Acts of 1866 and 1891. The quiet title action, under which Roth has taken legal action against the United States, is the sole means by which a citizen may resolve title to disputed land such as that involved in this case.
Mountain States Legal Foundation is a nonprofit, public interest legal center dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in the Denver, Colorado metropolitan area.
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