Thursday, October 15, 2009

US settles grazing lawsuit with Nevada rancher

A Nevada rancher who has fought the federal government for more than a decade over grazing and property rights has settled a civil suit with the Justice Department over livestock trespass, the government said Wednesday.

The stipulation filed in U.S. District Court in Reno ends the government's case against Goldfield rancher Ben Colvin.

John C. Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the agreement partially resolves "many years of disputes and litigation" over unauthorized grazing on federal lands in Nevada.

Colvin's lawyer, Jonathan Hansen, was out of town and unavailable for comment, his office said.

In 2007, the government sued Colvin, the estate of late Nevada rancher Wayne Hage and Hage's son, claiming they repeatedly defied federal land managers by grazing cattle without permits on land overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Wayne Hage came to epitomize Nevada's Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that gained momentum in the 1960s and '70s to retake control of federally owned public lands. He died in 2006 at age 69.

The suit further alleged the Hages unlawfully "leased" lands owned by the government to other ranchers for livestock grazing.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Colvin paid a $34,000 fine and agreed to comply with federal grazing regulations in the future. It also requires him to remove unauthorized improvements he made on the public lands, such as aboveground water pipelines, water tanks and corrals.

Once those conditions are met, he can reapply for grazing permits, the government said in a written statement.

The settlement pertains to Colvin only, and the government's suit against the Hages is still active.

The BLM canceled Colvin's grazing allotment preferences in the late 1990s. In 2001, the agency seized and auctioned 62 of his cattle, saying he was trespassing on federal land and owed the government $73,000 in back fines and fees.

Colvin filed against the government in the federal claims court two years later, seeking $30 million in compensation. A judge denied his claim, and that ruling was later upheld by an appellate judge, BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said.

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