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Summer 2013

Nevada Ranchers Property Rights War

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a lawsuit launched by Sagebrush Rebellion icon Wayne Hage against the federal government over property rights. In 1991, Wayne Hage, filed suit against the federal government stating that federal agencies had unlawfully taken his property without fair compensation.  Federal Courts had awarded Hage a total of 14 million dollars, including interest and attorney fees; all compensating for the taking of his rangeland improvements, ditch right-of-ways and the water that flowed from the federal lands to his private lands. 

The U.S. Government then appealed the decision to the Appellate Court and was successful in overturning parts of the case.  Now that a hearing by the Supreme Court has been denied, the case moved back to the Claims Court for final resolution.  The Hage Estate found the Court’s reversal narrow, alleging that the compensation for his rangeland improvements was unjust, and therefore denied compensation for these property rights.  However, because U.S District Court in Nevada required the government to reinstate the cooperative agreements it cancelled, executors for the Hage Estate opted not to contest this ruling.

Wayne Hage’s experiences with federal government agencies would make anyone cringe.  Since the 1970’s the federal government outright declared war against Hage’s Pine Creek Ranch.  Along with his land came vested water and grazing rights on federal land, which Congress considers to be private property right and subject to taxation.  But, for some unknown reason his water rights and property rights became a target of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.  So much that in 1991 when Hage filed a taking lawsuit against the federal government as a result he was charged with a felony for cutting brush along a irrigation ditch.

In a Fall 2012 court decision on the Hage Forage Rights Trial in Reno Nevada Judge Robert C. Jones held in his ruling “for the purposes of my holding the irreparable harm, the intentional conspiracy and the acts to deprive the Hages constituting irreparable harm consisted of the arrest and attempted conviction of Mr. Hage for practicing his property interest rights recognized by the courts.”  Furthermore, federal agency personal were cited on four grounds of contempt for their actions against Mr Hage. 

The District Court ordered the government to reissue the grazing permits and ordered Hage to sign the permits, authorizing grazing on the federal lands.  This action prevented the agency from barring access to Hage’s water and ditch right-of-ways.  Another key issue raised by Appellate Court was whether a taking of the ditch right-of-ways occurred because of Hage’s failure to apply for a special use permit, but the Claims Court found that the permit was not required and seeking a permit was futile considering the longstanding conflict between the agencies and Hage.

Appellate Court found the action of seeking the permit to be futile was not sufficient grounds to assert the government had taken the property. The Court also held that Hage hadn’t sufficiently proven he could put his water rights to beneficial use and that he should have directly sought compensation for rangeland improvements before filing a lawsuit, leaving the case once again in the hands of the Claims Court for final resolution.


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