Thursday, March 18, 2004


Judge's Bond Denial Protects Feds, Cowboys

U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen's decision to deny bond for embattled rancher Kit Laney, though sure to be unpopular with ranchers sympathetic to his cause, was a necessary decision.

A federal judge ordered Laney to remove his cattle from wilderness lands in the Gila National Forest for which he no longer holds grazing permits. Laney had returned his herd to the Diamond Bar grazing allotment last spring in violation of a 1997 court order.

U.S. Forest Service personnel overseeing the removal of his cattle claim he charged at them with his horse and tried to open a corral holding some of his impounded livestock Sunday night.

Laney, facing charges of assault on a peace officer, obstruction of a court order and intimidation, is being held in the Doña Ana County Detention Center.

Noting that Laney has ignored court orders in the past -- and that he isn't likely to abide by any now -- Molzen ordered that he be held without bond. Because confrontations like Sunday's can easily escalate, Molzen's ruling makes sense while the removal is under way.

Laney has already outlined what he views as his options: "We can fight, or we walk off with nothing," he told Journal reporter Rene Romo.

Forest Service personnel and the cowboys contracted to get Laney's cattle off public lands deserve protection while carrying out court orders. And Laney appears to need protection from himself.

Because Laney seems intent on harassing them, Molzen chose the best option available.

Cattle Were Rounded Up After Due Process

By Marcia Andre
Forest Supervisor, Gila National Forest

Much has been said and written lately about a livestock trespass on the Gila National Forest in Southwestern New Mexico. Some have suggested that the Forest Service has overstepped its authority and has been heavy handed in its treatment of the owners of the livestock. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kit and Sherry Laney knowingly put livestock onto the Gila National Forest without a grazing permit in the spring of 2003. They did this despite a court order issued in 1997 that clearly said they could not do so. That order was appealed by the Laneys to the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the order.
After discovering the Laney's livestock on Forest Service lands last spring, the Forest Service requested that the Laneys remove their livestock. They refused to do so. This pattern of request and refusal was repeated for approximately eight months.
In December 2003, a federal judge ruled that the Laneys were in contempt of the 1997 judgment and once again ordered removal of their livestock within 30 days— a grace period for the Laneys which the court stated was not required by law but which was granted at the request of the United States.
Again the Laneys did not take any action to comply with that order. The Forest Service and federal courts have given the Laneys ample opportunities to remove their livestock from the National Forest.
Since the court order, the Forest Service has been methodically preparing to remove the livestock from National Forest System lands. We have made sure that we are in compliance with every applicable law, and have taken all reasonable precautions to ensure a safe, efficient impoundment, in compliance with the court order. The impounding of the livestock has begun and will take several weeks.
It is the opinion of the Laneys that they have a right to graze livestock on a portion of the Gila National Forest without a permit. But the Laneys' opinion has been rejected by the courts. The Laneys and their supporters have made claims that the Laneys have not "had their day in court." To the contrary, the Laneys repeatedly presented and lost their contentions in court.
The federal courts have been abundantly clear; grazing on land owned by the citizens of the United States is a privilege not a right requiring an authorization. Grazing livestock on the National Forest without authorization is like harvesting timber, building roads, or establishing other uses without an authorization.
Our law-abiding society cannot allow individuals to carve out pieces of public land for their exclusive use based solely upon their stated opinions.
Grazing has been and will continue to be a valid use of the citizens' National Forest System lands. However, it must be conducted in a manner consistent with the law, regulations and local land management plans. Grazing needs to be done in a manner that is in the best interest of the land and the people over the long-term.
The Laneys' claims and actions are unique and unfortunate and are not typical of the many conscientious ranchers who have grazing permits on our national forests in New Mexico.
We take no pleasure in impounding the Laneys' livestock. Unfortunately the Laneys have forced us to take this action. As land managers we are obligated to enforce the law, adhere to court orders and to protect the interests of the citizens of the United States.

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