Elko Activist Charges:
copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|An Elko County property rights activist says he now has proof that the U.S. Forest Service is trying to steal from Nevadans water rights worth millions of dollars.|
| What now
gives the lie to often-repeated assurances from federal
land managers that no such agenda exists, says range
management consultant Tony Lesperance, is a brief
recently filed with the State of Nevada by lawyers
representing different branches of the federal
Lesperance, an Elko businessman and unopposed candidate for the county commission, released a statement Friday citing a 55-page federal brief filed in mid-July with the office of Nevada state water engineer Mike Turnipseed.
Submitting the brief was Kenneth G. Paur of the Office of General Counsel, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Listed "of counsel" was Stephen Bartell, Environmental and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice.
Electric Nevada's telephone calls to Paur's home office in Ogden, Utah were not returned by press time (although a secretary did explain that Paur pronounces his name "power.") Representatives of the State Engineer's office confirmed that Paur had filed the brief, but would not comment on any of its contents.
"Most people were raised with a certain degree of respect for 'Smokey the Bear,'" said Lesperance, "and just have difficulty believing that an agency of the United States would blatantly attempt to steal literally millions and millions of dollars worth of private property rights."
Nevertheless, he said, an action in February by state engineer Turnipseed forced the Forest Service's hand and compelled the agency to put on the record its real position -- that Nevada ranchers have no water and forage rights on Forest Service land, notwithstanding federal and state laws, long pre-dating the national forests, that recognize such rights.
Turnipseed's preliminary adjudication of the waters of southern Monitor Valley" in Nye County, said Lesperance, had "recognized the existing rights of private citizens of the State of Nevada, as well as existing federal rights under state laws."
But because Turnipseed "threw out the bogus claims of the Forest Service for these waters," the federal agency had been placed in a "quandary," said Lesperance.
"To let [Turnipseed's decision] stand would just about destroy the years and years of efforts, not to mention the millions of dollars of taxpayer monies, squandered by the Forest Service" in earlier efforts to force private citizens off the Nevada range, said Lesperance.
He quoted Paur's brief as saying "as a matter of law ... a private party may not own a water right for stockwatering purposes where the point of diversion and place
of use are on the national forests."
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