Water

A ranching family is celebrating a decision that hands the federal government a loss and them victory in a dispute over access to natural water sources on federal lands on which they’ve been grazing livestock since the 1800s.

The details of the victory for the Sacramento Grazing Association, a ranching company owned by James and Frances Goss, were outlined by the Heartland Institute.

The ranching company dates back to 1885, but in the 1980s, the U.S. Forest Service started fencing off some water sources, sources the SGA long had used, in the Lincoln National Forest to protect a species of thistle called the Sacramento Mountains Thistle.

“Throughout the 1990s, SGA and USFS battled and negotiated over SGA’s right to continue using the water. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion recommending livestock be permanently excluded from fenced-off areas on the forest’s Sacramento Allotment, in order to protect the endangered species. This decision prompted James and Frances Goss, the owners of the family ranch, to file a lawsuit requesting compensation for the USFS taking of property rights to the water,” the report said.

Now, even though James and Frances both passed away during the pendency of the court fight, a federal court upheld the right of the New Mexico family to access water on federal lands, determining the right dated back to the Territory of New Mexico.

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Susan G. Braden, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, found the government took property from the ranchers when it closed off access to water for the ranch’s cattle.

The 5th Amendment says the government cannot take private property for public use without just compensation.

The report said, “Braden ruled the ranchers had established property rights by having ‘made continuous beneficial use of stock water sources’ predating federal ownership. Braden also agreed with the ranchers’ claim the water was ‘physically taken’ when USFS blocked their livestock from accessing the water to preserve endangered species.”

The judge found the USFS began taking the private property when it restricted grazing access by fencing the sources and preventing cattle from reaching the water.

“Although water sometimes flowed outside the exclosures, which SGA’s cattle drank, nevertheless, the [Forest Service] is liable for a taking because a permanent physical occupation does not require that in every instance the occupation be exclusive, or continuous and uninterrupted,” the judge said. “Governmental action short of acquisition of title or occupancy has been held, if its effects are so complete, as to deprive the owner of all or most of his interest in the subject matter, to amount to a taking.”

The judge’s ruling noted state law in New Mexico gives the ranch the right to “beneficial use” of the water.

The judge suggested both sides look for alternative water sources, or she may have to award financial damages to the ranch.

“The court’s decision is a welcome confirmation that the Constitution does not permit the government to destroy property rights and unfairly impose the costs of providing a public benefit on a private property owner,” said Jonathan Wood, of the Pacific Legal Foundation. “Instead, the Constitution requires the government to pay for those benefits by compensating people for the property taken from them.

“That’s true whether the property is land taken to build a highway or water rights taken to improve habitat on federal land. If we value the public benefit, we should pay for it, not force someone else to do so without their consent.”

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

 

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