Court of appeals rules against rancher’s estate

August 04, 2012 6:00 am

ELKO — Years after his death and decades after his battle began, the legal war between Nye County rancher Wayne Hage and federal agencies continues.

Hage died in 2006, but his estate had been awarded more than $4 million in compensation by the Court of Federal Claims for grievances stretching back more than two decades. On July 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated the claim court’s ruling.

“The ruling was very narrow in scope,” said Ramona Morrison — one of Hage’s five children. “But, it’s not our first setback. It probably won’t be the last.”

According to the court of appeals decision, compensation was originally awarded for a “Fifth Amendment taking of private property, breach of contract, and range improvements.” The court ruled in July that those claims for compensation were untimely.

In 1978, Hage and his first wife Jean Hage bought a ranch in central Nevada consisting of about 7,000 acres of private land, and acquired grazing permits on about 752,000 acres of adjoining federal U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

It didn’t take long before the relationship between Hage and federal agencies quickly deteriorated.

“Shortly after the Hages acquired the ranching operation, disputes arose between the Hages and the government concerning the nature and scope of the Hages’ water rights and grazing permits,” the Court of Appeals decision states.

The Hages objected to the release of non-indigenous elk onto federal land for which the Hages had grazing permits because of reduced forage and water, according to the decision.

The Forest Service accused the Hages of various grazing violations, including not meeting minimum requirements on some allotments, and excessive use on others.

On one allotment, Meadow Canyon, the Forest Service told Hage that due to overgrazing, he had to remove all of his cattle during the 1990 grazing season. Hage argued it was impossible to control cattle from entering Meadow Canyon because the boundary was large and mostly unfenced, the decision states.

Eventually, the Forest Service placed a five-year suspension of grazing on the area. The Forest Service later impounded all cows on the allotment, and after the Hages couldn’t pay impoundment fees, sold the cattle.

A separate trespassing case was filed against the Hage estate in 2010 for alleged unpermitted cattle grazing on federal land. Morrison views this case to be retaliatory and frivolous.

“They have attempted to exhaust our resources,” she said.

An unresolved bench trial took place June 6, she said.