Cost of compliance - a 6th generation farmer speaks out about price of freedom

By Trent Loos
for Eco-Logic Powerhouse


What is the price of freedom? How many Americans have died to protect our rights?

Yet we have an additional price to pay to protect our right, as a rancher, to convert natural resources into value-added products.

For Kit Laney of New Mexico, part of the price was 25 days in jail, without bail. I fear we take many of our rights for granted. Without the intestinal fortitude of a few like Laney, one can only wonder how quickly all of our rights will evaporate.

The Laneys have been ranching this land since 1883. The Gila Wilderness Area was established in 1924. In 1985, the Laneys purchased adjacent property called the Diamond Bar. In 1996, Kit Laney refused to purchase a grazing permit after the Forest Service said he had to reduce his herd size. Laney said he couldn't make a living with fewer cattle.

In 1998, the Laneys argued to the Tenth Circuit Court that they should be declared the legal owners of the 145,580-acre Diamond Bar allotment under Territorial law, since their predecessors obtained the vested right to water and grazing in the 1880s. In 1999, the Tenth Circuit denied their argument, and prohibited the Laneys from grazing the allotments because their grazing permits had expired.

On March 14, 2004, Laney went to the grazing site after hearing that his cattle were being mistreated. He was aware that the Forest Service had hired independent contractors to impound his cattle. Laney ended up in jail, and was held without bond for fear that he would return to the grazing site to interrupt the government's seizure of his cattle.

The Catron County Commission has backed Laney, citing the loss of more than 25,000 head of cattle in the county in the past 10 years. This federally mandated herd reduction cost the county more than $1 million in lost revenue. The commission said the Forest Service reneged on numerous written promises and agreements made with ranch families.

As cattlemen, we all agree that natural resources should be managed properly. We want to have our voices heard within the confines of the law, rather than by operating illegally. But, shouldn't that work both ways? Does the government have a right to operate outside the law?

Cattle were impounded and sold at auction in Guymon, Oklahoma. These cattle came from a brand area. There are strict laws governing transport of livestock out of a brand area. How can the livestock board in New Mexico grant authorization for the sale of undocumented animals outside state lines?

The most disconcerting issue involves harassment by the government of individuals related to the Laneys. In a letter to Phyllis K. Fong, U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General, U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce says:

"One allegation that needs investigation is that the private contractor hired to do the roundup actually removed 14 head of horses from private deeded land that neither Forest Service personnel nor the contractor had permission to enter. Forest Service personnel have demanded $650 per horse to return them to the rightful owners. This allegation is troubling enough in its own right, but the fact that there have been numerous other complaints, including harassment of Laney relatives and other ranchers, questionable or illegal road closures, and requirement of permits for individuals to enter private property adds to the perception that a concerted effort is being made to drive law abiding New Mexicans from their homes and livelihoods."

What is the real cost of compliance? Do we know with whom we are dealing? The government's goal, driven by special interest groups, appears to be restricting ranchers from grazing public lands.

"We want to put the squeeze on ranchers to get off the land," says John Horning, the coordinator of the Forest Guardians' anti-grazing campaign. "If some ranchers go out of business along the way, so be it."

That statement was tied to a recent court decision by a federal judge who stated that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management must release the names of banks, and the consolidated amount of loans those banks have made to ranchers who are using BLM grazing permits as collateral.

Human beings were given the cranial matter to make decisions regarding the best utilization of resources that will also preserve them for generations. The mere fact that the Laney Ranch can sustain an operation for 121 years, until a higher power intervenes, should mean something. Do American citizens realize that this isn't about one family trying to continue some long-held tradition? It is about a nation that is losing the freedom to make sound decisions about natural resources essential for providing the necessities of life. Instead of granting control to people like Kit Laney, whose livelihood depends on good stewardship, we are forced to turn the management over to bureaucrats who have nothing to lose if their grandiose theories are proven wrong.


Trent Loos is a sixth generation farmer who wants to bridge the gap from agriculture producers and consumers. In addition to this column, he can be heard daily on his radio program by the same name. Trent can be reached via his website at, or e-mail.



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