CARLSBAD — The federal government has been called many things, with the latest being "cattle rustlers."
Sen. Vernon Asbill, R-Carlsbad, has introduced legislation that would prevent the federal government from seizing cattle on federal leased land when the rancher's lease is revoked as a result of a dispute between a federal agency and the lease holder.
Senate Bill 13 requires that livestock shipped or driven out of district - or out of state - be inspected by a state brand inspector. The inspector must make a complete inspection record that will remain on file for three years. Livestock may not change hands prior to issuance of the brand inspector's certificate.
The bill also addresses the circumstance of livestock seized by the federal government. It prevents a state brand inspector from issuing a brand inspection certificate for livestock seized by federal land managers unless the owner consents, the owner is unknown, or the federal government has obtained a court order from a court of competent jurisdiction.
According to the Office of the Courts, "A court of competent jurisdiction is simply a court that has jurisdiction to hear the claim brought before it."
"The federal government will not able to seize livestock on federally leased land in New Mexico," Asbill said. "This so-called cattle rustling by the feds will not happen in New Mexico. The feds will have to abide by this new law and stop the confiscation of livestock without permission.
"Yes, there are cases in southwestern New Mexico where this has happened. This bill is meant to ensure due process is followed by the federal government in cases where disputes occur between those who are leasing and the government."
In an opinion from the Office of the Court pertaining to SB 13, livestock inspectors must obtain a warrant from a magistrate court prior to seizing cruelly treated livestock, but federal agencies are not generally involved in this type of case.
The AOC further states that although the federal government may adopt a position regarding the appropriate court to issue a court order, the proposed statute indicates that the federal government is to initiate proceedings to obtain the court order.
State Livestock Board officials say that current legislation is vague regarding what it should do in the event of a proposed shipment of a citizen's livestock while in dispute. Asbill's bill, they say, will remedy the situation.
Wood Houghton, Eddy County Extension Service agriculture agent, said Asbill's legislation will give state livestock inspectors authority to keep cattle in the state until the dispute between the permitee and the federal government resolves the issues or the cattle are removed by court order.
Laurie Kincaid, rancher and former Eddy County commissioner, said, "They (federal government) should have to get a court order if they are going to seize somebody's livestock. They just can't arbitrarily go and get the livestock and sell them."
Kincaid and Houghton said Asbill's legislation is a result of case several years ago that was bitterly fought against the U.S. Forest Service by a rancher with federal leased lands in the Gila National Forest.
Following an environmental impact statement and record of decision protecting the Gila trout, the rancher, Kit Laney, saw his permit to graze cattle on his federal lease drop from 1,188 to 300 head. The case ended in court, and the court re-affirmed the Forest Service's decision to revoke Laney's grazing permit.
Laney challenged the system and put cattle back on the leased allotment. The Forest Service hired a private company to round up the cattle and sell them at auction. However, New Mexico cattle yards would not take the cattle. Eventually, the cattle were transported to Oklahoma and sold without permission or legal proceedings.