Supreme Court asked to hear water rights case

Supreme Court asked to hear water rights case

THE Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up and settle a decades-long property rights case, Hage vs. United States.

The high court would determine whether the U.S. Forest Service violated the "Takings Clause" of the U.S. Constitution when it interfered with the stock water rights of Nevada ranchers Wayne and Jean Hage.

PLC and NCBA were joined by the Nevada Cattlemen's Assn., Oregon Cattlemen's Assn. and Washington Cattlemen's Assn. in their amicus curiae brief, filed by the Western Resources Legal Center.

The Forest Service had denied the Hage family access to ditches that supply water to their stock and several meadows. The agency demanded that the family file for a permit in order to maintain and use the water.

Although a federal claims court decided that the Forest Service owed the Hages compensation for the water taking, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this determination in part.

According to NCBA president Scott George, if the Forest Service is allowed to demand a permit for the ditch right-of-way, then county road rights-of-way established under the Mining Act would also be in jeopardy. This would further threaten ranchers' ability to stay in business, George said, since they often depend on those roads to access their grazing allotments.

PLC president Brice Lee said the case is paramount to livestock producers nationwide.

"The implications to livestock producers at large are undeniable," Lee said. "This case, if not overturned, stands to remove the protective boundaries surrounding what constitutes a property right versus a 'permitted use.' It will lay a marker regarding individuals' right to compensation for government takings. We strongly encourage the Supreme Court to take up this case."

Volume:85 Issue:09

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