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Hage v. U.S.

AgLifeNW Magazine November Issue by Scott Johnson, AgLife editor

Stewards of the Range held a gathering October 20 at the Peppermill Casino in
Reno, Nevada. Friends, supporters and well-wishers gathered one more time to
show their backing for Nevada Rancher Wayne Hage and more importantly their
increasing concern for modern day trampling of property, water and civil rights
by various government agencies.

After more than a decade of harassment, being forced out of business the only
alternative was the court for Wayne Hage. Excerpts from the trial, and
information provided and gleaned from various sources will be passed on to you, the
reader, to draw your own conclusions.

Keep in mind that what happens to your neighbor two blocks away, or two
states away ... you could be next. If your neighbor wins his battle ... you might
not have to fight an expensive battle of your own!

Hage testified that when he purchased the ranch in 1978, he understood he
purchased "the entire ranch", which included numerous holdings of private
property and the neighboring grazing lands adjudicated by the Forest Service and
Bureau of Land Management, range improvements, ditch rights of way, water rights,
wells, road system, trails, fencing and other necessary components of the
ranch.

In the trial Hage detailed how the Forest Service worked to make it
increasingly harder to operate an efficient livestock operation, ultimately leading to
the taking of his ranch. When a 2,000 mother cow operation sees the income
drop from 400,000 a year to $6900 ... it would be hard to survive.
A teacher, cable guy or policeman couldn't stand a pay cut from $40,000 a
year to $690 a year.


gathering of friends and supporters


standing room only in the courtroom



Hage testified how the Forest Service began fencing off his springs, blocking
cattle from the water. Their justification was that they "thought" the
recently enacted Federal Land Policy and Management Act gave ownership of the water
in the National Forests to the Forest Service.

Shortly after that, the Forest Service expanded their horse pasture next to
an administrative site in Meadow Canyon, taking in Hage's primary spring
system, which watered the cattle on the Meadow Canyon allotment. Hage objected to
this and the Nevada State Water Engineer held a field hearing with the Forest
Service and Hage. At the hearing, Hage brought title documents showing ownership
of the water. The Forest Service had nothing. The engineer ruled that Hage
owned the water. "Even though I won the ruling, the Forest Service wouldn't take
out the fences that blocked my water," Hage said. Those fences remain today.

In the trial Hage spent a considerable amount of time answering questions on
the charges filed against him by the Forest Service and the BLM. Most of these
were trespass notices and complaints of not maintaining fences. During a
105-day grazing season in 1983, the Hages had 40 personal visits and 70 certified
letters from the Forest Service, all alleging different violations. One notice
he received gave him the usual 5 days to fix the fence. He sent a man with a
pack horse hauling fencing equipment to the top of Table Mountain. When his
rider found the Forest Service's blue flag marking the maintenance problem,
there was one staple missing.

The previous owner told Hage he was selling because of the increased Forest
Service pressure, but Hage thought he could get along with them. "You might say
I was a bit naive. I had worked for the Forest Service and BLM, taken more
range courses than most of them had, so I thought I could work with them, but
quickly found out it had nothing to do with good range management, but that they
didn't want me there."

Hage also discussed his decision to take non-use on Table Mountain. He
explained that with all the new policies, new fences they erected which inhibited
proper grazing, and continual charges they brought, he decided to take non-use
while appealing their decisions. He notified the Forest Service of this through
a letter sent by his attorney.

In response, the Forest Service suspended 20% of the cattle allowed claiming
Hage did not fill out the proper form to take non-use. Then with 30 days left
in the permitted grazing season, they informed him he was required to place at
least 90% of the cattle on the allotment. Hage knew there wasn't enough time
to place cattle on the allotment and remove them without creating more
trespass situations. (Note, it is 80 miles from one end of the ranch to some
allotments).

The next letter he received cancelled 25% of the cattle allowed because the
Forest Service did find cattle on the allotment. Hage explained what led to
this letter. The cattle that normally summered on the mountain would stay close
to the gate at the head of the trail. One day, Hage and his crew saw a Forest
Service vehicle drive up to the gate and then leave shortly thereafter. Curious
as to what they were doing, he went to the same location, found the gate open
and saw cattle tracks going through. A few days later he received a letter
cancelling 25% of his permitted numbers.

At this point Judge Loren Smith asked Hage if his testimony was that the
Forest Service opened the gate, cattle wandered onto the allotment and the Forest
Service filed trespass charges against him. Hage responded, "That is correct."
Hage's attorney Ladd Bedford then turned to the next grazing season and asked
what efforts Hage made to contain the cattle. Hage explained that by 1991 the
only way to comply with the cancellation of the Meadow Canyon permit and the
severe reduction already made on Table Mountain, was to remove all the
livestock from his grazing allotments. In the Spring of 1991, as the cattle moved off
the winter range, he began gathering and placing them in private meadows
until the controversy could be resolved. But, 1991 turned out to be a very dry
year so he wasn't able to hold the cattle for long.

In order to move the cattle from the Ralston Range to Pine Creek private
pastures, the cattle had to migrate through the Monitor Valley allotment which
borders the now suspended Meadow Canyon allotment. "From June 1 to July 27 our
crew gathered the allotments every day."

Bedford asked what happened July 27, 1991, the first day they confiscated his
cattle. Hage explained his crew was met with several riders and Forest
Service officials wearing bulletproof vests and carrying semi-automatic weapons.

After the Forest Service confiscated the cattle, Hage received a letter
informing him he would need to pay $39,000 for the cattle, and $40,000 for the cost
of impoundment. Unable to pay the costs, the Forest Service District Ranger
David Grider personally auctioned the cattle off at a BLM facility.

Bedford then asked a series of questions regarding the issues that arose
after Hage filed his takings case. The BLM had issued temporary permits to other
ranchers who were now using Hage's range and water. Although the ranchers were
required to haul in the water, the cattle would still use Hage's wells and
springs.

Hage talked of an incident in 2001 when his crew was moving cattle from one
private pasture to another. They were driving the cattle down a country road
when a BLM vehicle forced the cattle off the road. The agents stopped and took
pictures of the scattered cattle. Later they sent Hage a trespass notice.

Hage discussed a number of other issues that occurred, all showing a pattern
of retaliation against him for filings the takings case. The one and a half
days of direct testimony filled the record with numerous accounts of calculated
government actions designed to run this rancher out of business without due
process or compensation. But the government would have their chance to refute
Hage's accusations, first on cross-examination and through testimony of their
witnesses.

They failed. Hage's testimony held up under cross where the lead attorney for
the government was unable to impeach or discredit Hage on any issue. The
remaining plaintiff's witnesses also held up under cross.

When District Ranger David Grider was on the stand it was quite a different
matter. Court watchers witnessed the arrogant district ranger slowly unravel.
Before noon on the first day of cross, Grider had impeached his testimony four
times. Four different lines of questions followed the same that been asked
during his deposition many years earlier. But today, he gave different answers.

Bedford would ask his question, Grider would answer. Then Bedford would ask
Grider to read portions of his deposition into the record. How strange it must
have been for Grider to read out loud the same question just asked and his
answer which was opposite of that just given. Then Grider would put down his
deposition and push it off to the side.

This gives you, the reader, a small sample of the total picture. If you are
even remotely connected to agriculture and care about property rights, water
rights and your civil rights ... you should perhaps take a harder look at things
that are affecting someone else ... you might just be next.

To learn more you can go to www.stewards.us.
 

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