Saturday, October 04, 2003

Nevada Live Stock Association
Contact: Ramona Morrison
October 3, 2003

Nevada Rancher Sues Federal Government for $30 Million in Takings Suit

GOLDFIELD, NV—Ben and Juanita Colvin, after years of government harassment and interference with their ranching operation, the confiscation of 62 head of their cattle at gunpoint, and the resulting shutting down of their ranching operation, recently sued the federal government for $30 million compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The Complaint, filed August 16 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., alleges in part that the Federal government transferred the Colvin’s water and forage rights to the Bureau of Land Management and third parties; allowed 1,300 head of wild horses to trespass on Colvin’s grazing allotment; and threatened Mr. Colvin’s family and employees to prevent them from using their vested water rights and forage rights.
"The United States terminated Colvin's lease and preference grazing rights without justification, thus attempting to prevent him from accessing his water rights, forage rights and other range rights," commented Mr. Colvin’s attorney, Mike Van Zandt, from his San Francisco office.
Colvin commented from his home in Goldfield, Nevada, “My life’s work is tied up in this ranch. The federal government has been trying to wipe me out financially and now has left me with no choice but to seek damages. They have the power to confiscate my property under the Constitution, but that same Constitution guarantees me compensation for that property.”
Colvin is following the litigation strategy set forth in the similar and successful case of his neighbor, Wayne Hage. Hage filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 1991 after years of attempts by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM to reclassify his rangelands as “public lands” and convert it to other uses. In the January 29, 2002 Final Decision and Finding of Fact, the Court ruled that Hage had “title to the fee lands”, an area of land identified as his grazing allotment. The Court will determine the compensation owed Hage for the government taking of his property in a trial set for May 2004. “The Hage decision is important to hundreds of western ranchers who have been subjected to years government harassment and interference with their ranching operations. Nothing has changed for many ranchers under the Bush Administration. Clinton bureaucrats are still largely in control. But we now have a victory in Hage that provides other ranchers with a road-map showing them how to keep the government honest when they take our property,” said Wayne Hage from his ranch in Monitor Valley, Nevada.
Retired Congressman, Helen Chenoweth-Hage said, “Unfortunately Ben Colvin’s case is not unique. We have been speaking to ranchers all over the West. They always tell me the same story—the government is taking the ability to use their property. The only thing that changes is the name of the environmental red herring. Sadly there are many ranchers who will have no choice but to seek compensation under the Fifth Amendment.”
The government argues Ben Colvin and other ranchers are grazing livestock by virtue of a grazing permit on “public land” and therefore the U.S. F. S. and BLM can manage the land for their own purposes regardless of the impact on the rancher’s business. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Bardon v. Northern Pacific Railroad that, “It is well settled that all land to which any claims or rights of others have attached does not fall within the designation of public land.” Grazing allotments by definition have rights and claims of others attached including vested water rights, forage rights and rights-of-ways, all of which predate the creation U.S. F. S. and BLM. Mr. Colvin will provide evidence to the Court through his chain-of-title that he owns the vested water rights, forage rights and rights-of-ways on his rangeland and that he is not grazing on the government’s “public land”.
Contacts: Ben Colvin (775) 485-6366
Michael Van Zandt (405) 905-0200
Wayne or Helen Chenoweth-Hage (775) 482-4187

For previous stories see Esmeralda County Voters Draw Their Pens; Grand Jury Investigation into Nevada Brand Inspector a Go and Chenoweth-Hage seeks cattle seizure probe. For background on the Hage vs. US case, go here.

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