Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
by Marcia Armstrong 3/12/06
I am very concerned that the Forest Service has proposed to "cure" defect of title on half of the lands it proposes to diverst itself of in the new lands conveyance proposal (30,000 acres.) These lands currently include grazing allotments. In Siskiyou County, many of these allotments were tied to base ranches prior to the creation of the Forest Reserves. The base rannches established "split estate" usufructory property interests in permanent improvements, water use, ditch rights of way and associated forage use. All of these types of rights were confirmed to pre-existing grazers in Hage v. United States, Case No.: USCC91-1470L, Court: United States Court of Federal Claims, Washington D.C., Date Filed: Sept. 26, 1991
"The court denied the government's motion on the takings allegations and rights to compensation on nearly all of the remaining claims, finding "that a limited evidentiary hearing is necessary to address the mixed questions of law and fact" regarding property interests in water, ditch rights-of-way, rangeland forage adjacent to stockwatering sites, cattle, and the Hage's ranch as well as ownership of permanent range improvements. Case Updates: <http://www.stewardsoftherange.org/cornerstone/june1996/csjune96-1.asp>June
Final Decision: January 29, 2002 Impact of Decision: (Counsel's Analysis of final decision). At issue in this phase of the case was the nature and scope of the Hage's property rights on the federally managed grazing allotments appurtenant to the Hage's Pine Creek Ranch. In his decision, Judge Smith found that the Hages owned extensive water rights on their grazing allotments. Also, that they were the owners of ten 1866 Act ditch rights of way the scope of which included 50 feet on either side of the ditches, for which the Hage's did not need to obtain a special permit in order to maintain the ditches. The court also concluded that the Hage's have a right to the water, so long as they can put it to beneficial use.
According to the information I have, the US Forest Service plans to sell these parcels, (in which a split estate interest exists,) to buyers including in first priority (1) a government; (2) a land trust or other NGO. It appears that the federal government will attempt to extinguish these split estate rights without compensation for the taking through the land sales.
When the Board of Supervisors participated in BLM land sales, some years ago, which included several grazing allotments, an agreement was fashioned, whereby the current grazer was given the right of first refusal on the purchase of the property with consideration of his/her split estate ownership and lack of accessibility of land locked parcels in the purchase price. Needless to say, there was not much value left in these lands.
In any event, Agriculture is, by far, the largest sector of our economy in Siskiyou County. According to the 2004 Siskiyou County Crop Report, livestock accounted for more than $32,000,000 in value to our local economy. As you know, Siskiyou County was settled in the Gold Rush era and these are many pioneer families who established ranches and historic customary water use and grazing rights long before the Forest Reserves were ever established. It is vital to Siskiyou County that our custom and culture be preserved.
I am asking that the Board of Supervisors come down hard against this proposal as affects grazing allotments. (We have already been successful in having them remove parcels with mineral claims from the proposal.)
Marcia Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor District 5
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