JORDAN VALLEY — An Oregon family wants to convince a federal appeals court that its ranch’s “grazing preference” was canceled contrary to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s own regulations.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Monday, May 3, in the lawsuit, which raises questions about the interaction between private lands and public grazing allotments.
After losing a permit to graze on 30,000 acres of BLM allotments in nearby Idaho, ranchers Mike and Linda Hanley leased their private “base property” in Jordan Valley to their daughter and son-in-law, Martha and John Corrigan.
When the Corrigans applied for a new grazing permit — citing the private ranch’s “grazing preference” to the allotments — the BLM rejected the request in 2017.
The BLM claimed the property’s grazing preference, which gave it priority for access to public allotments, was lost along with Hanley’s grazing permit.
The agency’s interpretation of the preference rules was upheld by a federal judge last year, but an attorney for Hanleys and Corrigans has now asked the 9th Circuit to overturn that decision.
Alan Schroeder, the family’s attorney, argued that BLM must undertake a separate legal process to eliminate the grazing preference, which provides the ranch property with first-priority access to permits for nearby grazing allotments.
The Hanleys and Corrigans believe the BLM’s decision could set a troubling precedent for ranchers’ due process rights, since they weren’t allowed to challenge the BLM’s elimination of their property’s valuable grazing preference.
The controversy has also concerned ranch groups, such as the Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association, which have argued the BLM’s actions threaten to undermine the important connection between private property and surrounding grazing allotments.
Schroeder said the BLM has in the past revoked grazing preferences separately from grazing permits, which simply allow cattle to be released onto government property.
In the case of Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, an icon of the “Sagebrush Rebellion” against government grazing restrictions, 12 years elapsed between the two actions.
The government’s own definition of grazing preference provides a property with super-priority to apply for grazing access regardless of why a permit was lost, Schroeder said.
“It doesn’t say it must be an existing permit. It doesn’t say it must be an expiring permit,” he said.
Christine England, attorney for the government, argued that Hanley’s permit was canceled for non-compliance with grazing regulations and thus “could not hold this authority of renewal.”
When the permit is canceled, “the grazing preference is automatically and simultaneously extinguished,” England said.
The BLM must invoke a separate process to cancel a grazing preference only when a grazing permit isn’t renewed after a 10-year term, she said.
If that term is interrupted because the permit is canceled for non-compliance, as in Hanley’s case, the grazing preference is lost as well, she said.