Supreme Court Ruling says water right ownership doesn’t give ranchers the right to run cattle across federal land.

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t review a court decision that stripped deceased Nevada rancher Wayne Hage of a legal victory against the federal government.

In 2013, the estate of Hage — an icon of the “Sagebrush Rebellion” against federal land policies — prevailed in a lawsuit filed by federal agencies that alleged his cattle trespassed on public land.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones ruled that Hage’s cattle could legally cross federal property to access a stream in which he owned water rights. The judge also found that federal officials had engaged in a “literal, intentional conspiracy” against him.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision earlier this year, ruling that water right ownership doesn’t give ranchers the right to run cattle across federal land.


AP Photo/Elko Daily Free Press, Mark Waite, File Rancher Wayne Have is shown in 1997 in the area where federal agents seized 100 head of his cattle in 1991, in the Meadow Canyon near Tonopah, Nevada. Have, who battled the federal governemtn for decades over public lands and private property rights and came to epitomize Nevada’s Sagebrush Rebellion, died in 2006. An appeal of a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been trned down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mark Pollot, attorney for Hage’s estate, claimed the 9th Circuit misinterpreted the law and undermined water rights across the West.

He asked the Supreme Court to review the case, but that request has now been denied.

The federal government initially didn’t react to the Supreme Court challenge, but the nation’s highest court ordered it to file a response.

For that reason, Pollot was optimistic that the justices were interested in the case, so their denial comes as a surprise, he said.

“It’s directly contrary to prior decisions by the Supreme Court and to state laws,” Pollot said.

It’s possible the eight justices were evenly split on whether to take the case and realized that it would likely result in a stalemate, which would effectively uphold the 9th Circuit decision, he said.

Though the Hage case wasn’t granted Supreme Court review, Pollot said the litigation is likely to continue.

For one, Hage’s son and namesake is still liable for trespass, which he plans to challenge, he said.

Secondly, there’s a possibility for future problems if federal agencies don’t permit Hage’s estate to divert water from the stream in which it holds water rights, Pollot said.

“We still have some options I’m not ready to discuss,” he said.

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