Tonopah rancher Wayne N. Hage, whose family has been fighting various federal land agencies in court for 23 years over grazing and water rights, was one of a half dozen ranchers to address a congressional subcommittee conducting a hearing under the banner “Threats, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies.”

Hage told the subcommittee, which includes Northern Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei, about how a federal judge in Nevada found two federal agents’ actions so egregious that he found them in contempt. But nothing was ever done about it.
They weren’t rogue agents, Hage told the subcommittee, they were carrying out directions and policies originating in Washington. Hage also said he fully expects to face retaliation for his speaking to Congress.

The testimony from Hage and the other ranchers points up the need for Congress to pass a bill introduced by Amdoei and a Colorado congressman called the Water Rights Protection Act. It would prohibit federal land agencies from basically extorting water rights from those who use federal land.

In his written testimony Hage said, “I remind Congress that Aristotle explained that the difference between a correct form of government and perverse form of government is that the former is the rule of law and the latter is the rule of man.”

Water rights should be protected by the rule of law. Amodei’s bill prohibits federal agencies from implementing a permit condition that requires the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew a permit, license or lease for the use of land. It also prohibits the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation.

This has become a common practice by federal land agencies in recent years and must be reined in to protect property rights. — TM