Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Nevada ranching family loses federal lands court case

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the federal government in a long-running dispute with the late Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, remanding the case to a new federal judge because of apparent bias on the part of U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones. In a separate unpublished memorandum also filed Friday, the panel of the appeals court reversed a finding of contempt against BLM employee Thomas Seley and U.S. Forest Service employee Steven Williams, finding that Jones "grossly abused the power of contempt." In the main opinion, the 9th Circuit, in a ruling written by Judge Susan Graber, granted the request by the U.S. government to reassign the case. "Defendants openly trespassed on federal lands," she said. "Rather than simply resolving the fact-specific inquiries as to when and where the cattle grazed illegally, the district court applied an 'easement by necessity' theory that plainly contravenes the law." "A dispassionate observer would conclude that the district judge harbored animus toward the federal agencies," Graber wrote. "Unfortunately, the judge's bias and prejudgment are a matter of public record. The decades-long dispute centers on the Hage family's Pine Creek Ranch near Tonopah, and is well known in the West and among property rights advocates who charge the government exercises a heavy hand in relations with those who make their livelihood off the land. The ruling is the latest chapter in a feud that dates to the days of the Sagebrush Rebellion. The government charged the Hage family, along with rancher Benjamin Colvin, with trespassing by grazing cattle without a permit on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land. Hage died in 2006 and the fight has been carried on by his family and son Wayne N. Hage Jr. The younger Hage said in a telephone interview Monday that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would be difficult. "I don't know what the future has in store for us," he said. "We have been dealt a lot of ugly over the years. I''m not sure where it's going to go. "It is a big disappointment, not just for my family but for the entire industry," Hage said. "They felt relief at the Jones decision. Ranchers' rights had been upheld but now it has all been overturned. It looks to me like the 9th Circuit just swelled the ranks of the militias." Hage said he is not involved with the militias but that he understands their frustrations with the federal government...more

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