CARSON CITY — A U.S. District Court judge has ordered a Nevada ranching family engaged in a long-running dispute with federal agencies to pay $587,000 for grazing cattle on BLM and Forest Service lands without permission.
The order dated Feb. 27 from Gloria Navarro, chief judge of the Las Vegas District Court, also requires the son of the late Wayne Hage to remove any livestock from federal lands within 30 days. Within 45 days the Hage has to file a statement of compliance with the order or face contempt of court.
The order, which names Hage’s son, Wayne N. Hage, was the result of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision issued last year that overturned a lower court ruling in favor of the Hage family. The 9th circuit court directed the Las Vegas court to issue a new order complying with the appeals court findings in the decision.
That order was issued by Navarro on Monday.
Hage died in 2006, and the legal fight has been carried on by his family and son.
The order could bring an end a decades-long dispute that centered on the Hage family’s Pine Creek Ranch near Tonopah. The case is well known in the West and among property-rights advocates who continue to maintain that the federal government exercises a heavy hand in relations with those who make their livelihood off the land.
Navarro calculated the damages based on the number of cattle Hage grazed on the federal lands from 2004 to 2011. The Hage family also is permanently prohibited from putting their livestock on federal lands without permission.
Wayne N. Hage said the decision was not a surprise.
“We were expecting it,” he said. “I think you are going to find a lot of joyous bureaucrats today.”
Hage said he does not have livestock on the lands in question, but he declined to say if he can pay the fine or how he may proceed legally, if at all.
Hage said Navarro’s order means the family’s stock watering rights are an illusion. The family has water rights on the land in dispute but they could not be accessed because their livestock was not allowed on the federal lands, he said.
“If it is not a taking then they have destroyed every stock water right in Nevada,” Hage said.
“The federal government is going after all kinds of property,” Hage said. “Not just our property rights. This is a bellweather that they don’t want private property rights out there. They are extinguishing them as fast as they can.”
RANCHERS VS. BLM
The Hage case preceded the more recent confrontation between federal agencies and Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy. The BLM’s efforts to round up cattle belonging to Bundy in 2014 resulted in an armed confrontation between federal agents and Bundy supporters that ultimately ended peacefully.
Members of the Bundy family are on trial in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on charges relating to the standoff.
The Hage case has a long and complicated history, but the recent ruling is the result of a 2013 decision by a federal judge that was overturned on appeal.
In May 2013 U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones issued a 104-page opinion detailing what he called the federal government’s vindictive actions against the ranching family.
But the 9th circuit court reversed Jones and found in favor of the government claims that Hage was trespassing on public lands by grazing cattle without a permit. The court also criticized Jones, who is now on senior status, for his decision that “plainly” contravened federal law.