Wayne Hage in Federal Claims Court:
copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|For more than a century, the U.S. Forest Service has been trying to avoid recognition of Nevada ranchers' range rights, says author and Nye County rancher Wayne Hage.|
| But that
federal pretense has become a lot more difficult to
sustain, he says, after a March 8 ruling of the United
States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.
"We had a very, very resounding win on a government motion for summary judgment," says Hage.
"And that was very significant because now the court has come out and clearly stated that those grazing rights certainly can exist and they are compensable."
At the time, confident federal lawyers had asked Chief Judge Loren Smith for a summary judgment -- that is, a ruling that plaintiff Hage, under the relevant law, had no case.
However, Smith found that the federal government was wrong on the law when it asked the court to rule "that even if plaintiffs [Hage and owners of the adjoining RO ranch] owned property rights dating from the 1800s, such water and ditch rights have no relevance today because of state administrative proceedings and the application of federal law."
"Contrary to defendant's [i.e., the government's] position," wrote Judge Smith in an order, a copy of which was secured by Electric Nevada, "this court concludes that if plaintiff's predecessors in interest had property rights in the 1880s, the rights presumptively still exist."
Announcing "that a limited evidentiary hearing is necessary to the court's analysis" of the Hage taking claims, Smith said the court will now proceed to the factual questions of when the Hage property's water rights were vested, and when federal government rights, if any, were vested on the Hage property. Dates for the hearings have not yet been set.
"Our thrust now in the case is to prove title to the grazing rights," said Hage. "And that's what we're in the process of doing now; that's the next stage."
One source familiar with the case told Electric Nevada that federal lawyers are now very much in a bind on the Hage case. Because it was the government that requested the summary judgment, they cannot -- under procedures governing the Court of Federal Claims -- now file an appeal against Smith's ruling. EN has not yet been able to reach attorneys on both sides of the case.
Hage said that even though the March 8 ruling "is the most significant victory to come down on these federal lands in a 106 years, the mainstream press just totally ignored it."
However, he says, there was lots of coverage -- all negative -- in September, 1991, when he first filed his takings claim against the Forest Service.
"There were all kinds of press releases put out by environmental groups, the Forest Service, etc., about how our case had no merit, how, on the issues involved, the courts had done away with those issues a long time ago," he says.
"Well, the thing of it is, the question had never been asked of the court. So we were just getting bombarded with magazine articles, national magazine articles, [and] major newspaper articles all over the country, about what a crazy approach this was..."
"We've just had to kind of keep our heads down and proceed along the proper course of litigation, and interestingly enough, we've won every round."
the reason the victory in the court of federal claims
seems surprising to many people is that the public has
been subjected to a generations-long campaign of
disinformation about the Western lands administered by
the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
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