A look at Western ranchers' issues with the feds

Hage case highlights rancher concerns.

BOISE - Ranchers' issues with the federal government over land is not a new phenomenon. Many ranchers on Western lands have felt the government's hand has been too heavy for years.

KTVB talked to a regional ranching family and their attorney, who have been in and out of the courts for decades, fighting against what they call lawlessness on the part of the feds.

Many might recognize the last name, Hage, for their historic case in Nevada highlighting deep-seeded problems in the ranching industry, and for taking on the federal government. The Hage family is still fighting that battle, after decades of trial and tribulation.

"It takes an awful lot to force somebody to take that extraordinary step that you saw out there in Oregon- whether we agree with it or not- we need to step back and look at what pushed them to that extent," Ramona Morrison, E. Wayne Hage's daughter, said.

What Morrison believes pushed those ranchers to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for the last 41 days is the tyranny of federal agencies.

RELATED: Final holdout surrenders, ending Malheur refuge standoff

"Things were different in Central Nevada and the forest service there really did not like the ranchers," the Hage family attorney, Mark Pollot, told KTVB.

Pollot says as soon as the late "Hage Senior" bought his ranch in the 70's, those administrative agencies started to throw every road-block in his way.

"They started on a campaign to make it impossible for us to run that ranch through the use of administrative powers," Morrison added.

Eventually, the family had to sell their cattle after the government charged them with trespassing by grazing cattle without a permit on BLM and U.S Forest Service land. The family filed a takings lawsuit under the Fifth Amendment, and after 21 days of trial, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones said the federal government entered into a conspiracy, and ruled in District Court of Reno, Nevada that the Hages deserved compensation.

"Our defense was: we have rights of way, we have easements, we have water rights that are out in the federal lands," Pollot said.

But, on appeal to the 9th U.S Circuit, a court reversed that decision.

"The sad part of it is these federal agencies are ignoring their own laws," Morrison told KTVB.

Morrison says the law requires federal agencies to recognize pre-existing rights of ranchers, like easements, forage rights and vested water rights.

So what is the solution? What might fix the underlying issues for ranchers in the West and for the former occupiers in Oregon?

"I think right now, the biggest hope they've got is they go through the legislatures," Pollot said.

Along with many other ranchers, Morrison believes states could do a better job handling these lands. Pollot says states don't have to manage the lands, but they can clarify the law that says ranchers' land rights are as valid as they were when they were put on the books.

While Morrison and Pollot do not agree with the way occupiers handled the siege of the wildlife refuge outside of Burns, Ore., they do agree with their underlying issues.

The Hages' decades-long dispute is not over; they say they will be back in court to challenge that most recent decision.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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