'Takings' Case Challenges Govt. Rights Over Federal Lands

A case over land rights in the West going back decades has been awarded to the estate of a deceased property rights activist, who contended that the Forest Service deprived his ranch of water.

"A judge awarded more than $4.2 million to a late Nevada rancher's estate after finding that the U.S. Forest Service engaged in an unconstitutional 'taking' of water rights out of hostility to the rancher, a property rights activist.

The rancher, Wayne Hage, bought the sprawling Pine Creek Ranch in central Nevada in 1978.

In the early 1980s, the Forest Service began to notify him he was in violation of his federal grazing permit. In 1983, the Forest Service sent him 40 letters and agency officials made 70 visits to his ranch.

[T]he taking occurred when the Forest Service made it impossible for Hage to maintain irrigation ditches, which deprived the ranch of water and made it unviable. The government demanded that he maintain the ditches using nothing more than hand tools.

Hage first filed a claim seeking $28 million in 1991. In an interview in 2004, two years before his death, he told The Associated Press his case could dramatically impact states' rights and federal lands in the West. 'It's the first time in nearly a century that someone has effectively challenged the government over who owns the range rights and water rights out here on these federal lands,' he told The Associated Press.

The judge noted that hand tools would not be effective over such vast expanse of land. The ditches brought water to the 7,000-acre ranch as well as the 700,000 acres of national forest land where Hage grazed his cattle.

Hage was one of the leaders of the so-called 'Sagebrush Rebellion' during the 1980s, a movement among Western landowners who believed the federal government had no jurisdiction over their property because the ranches predate the federal agencies that sought to regulate them."

Full Story: Nev. rancher awarded $4.2M for 'taken' water right

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