In a federal court case that has been
watched closely by livestock producers
in California and throughout the western
United States, Chief Judge Robert C.
Jones of the Federal District Court of
Nevada issued a 104-page ruling
protecting Western ranchers' grazing
preferences and finding conspiracy by
federal agents to deprive ranchers of
vested property rights.
stems from a 2007 trespass case, U.S. v.
Hage, brought by the U.S. Forest Service
and Bureau of Land Management against
Nevada rancher Wayne N. Hage and the
estate of his father, E. Wayne Hage.
In its documents, the USFS and BLM
alleged that between January 2003 and
August 2007, cattle were observed 52
times on federally managed grazing land.
In handing down his decision, Judge
Jones said there were only two incidents
of minor trespass by the cattle and
granted damages of less than $200. No
punitive damages were awarded because
the instances of cattle trespass weren't
carried out "oppressively, fraudulently
or maliciously," the judge wrote.
The judge also stated that employees
of the two federal agencies overstepped
their authority in their dealings with
Specifically, Jones found, "The
government has abused its discretion in
the present case through a series of
actions designed to strip the estate of
its grazing permits, and ultimately to
strip defendants of their ability to use
their water rights."
He explained, "Substantive due
process protects individuals from
arbitrary deprivation of their liberty
The judge added that "the government
cannot withdraw them (grazing permits)
or refuse to renew them vindictively or
for reasons totally unrelated to the
merits of the application as governed by
published laws and regulations, lest the
government abuse its executive power in
a way that shocks the conscience."
Judge Jones reasoned the trespass
notices and demands for payment were
meant "to pressure other parties not to
do business with the Hages, and even to
discourage or punish testimony in the
present case." The court noted such
demands for payment were even issued to
witnesses "soon after they testified in
The judge also found Tonopah BLM
Manager Tom Seley and Forest Ranger
Steve Williams to be in contempt of
court, and referred the matter to the
U.S. attorney for possible prosecution
for criminal obstruction of justice.
Noting that Seley and Williams knew of
ongoing litigation between the parties
in the court and the U.S. Court of
Federal Claims, they "took actions to
interfere with the defense of the
present trespass action by intimidating
witnesses," the judge said.
Jones went on to rule that Hage is
required to apply for a grazing permit,
but the judge also required the
government to grant it. The judge
enjoined the government agencies from
issuing trespass or impound notices to
Hage or anyone leasing cattle to him
without permission from the court to
issue such notices.
for use is granted, however, credit must
be made to the California Farm Bureau
Federation when reprinting this item.