Rancher Sues Feds for $30 Million

Scales of Justice
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A Nevada rancher has sued the federal government for $30 million, alleging its actions resulted in the shutdown of his operation without compensation.

In his suit filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., Ben Colvin of Goldfield accuses the government of an illegal "taking" of private property.

He filed the suit Aug. 16, a little over two years after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management confiscated 62 of his cattle and auctioned them off. He announced it over the weekend.

"The federal government has been trying to wipe me out financially and now has left me with no choice but to seek damages," Colvin said in a statement.

"They have the power to confiscate my property under the Constitution, but that same Constitution guarantees me compensation for that property," he added.

BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said Sunday that she could not comment on the suit until she had a chance to read it.

BLM officials have said they confiscated Colvin's cattle as a last resort after he repeatedly grazed them on federal land without a permit and in violation of regulations intended to stem overgrazing. They said Colvin had refused since 1995 to pay grazing fees.

Colvin has denied the charges, saying he paid the fees and that overgrazing was impossible because his cattle were grazing on about 650,000 acres.

In his suit, Colvin contends the government's actions prevented him from using his vested water and forage rights on his grazing allotments.

He's seeking the $30 million under the Fifth Amendment guarantee that private property shall not be taken without just compensation.

"The United States terminated Colvin's lease and preference grazing rights without justification, thus attempting to prevent him from accessing his water rights, forage rights and other range rights," said his lawyer, Mike Van Zandt of San Francisco.

Colvin's suit is similar to one filed by Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, who's awaiting a May 2004 trial to determine compensation owed him for what he calls the government taking of his property.