Private property rights threatened, ranchers take it to Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON – Among ranchers, one of the most passionately-held principles is the defense of property rights.
That’s why the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Public Lands Council, the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association have joined together in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Wilkie v. Robbins.
Issue. The central issue is the right of private property owners to deny federal access to their property and the legal options available to property owners for holding federal officials accountable for inappropriate actions.
“We’re fighting for individuals against government abuse,” said Jeff Eisenberg, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s director of federal lands and executive director of the Public Lands Council.
“There needs to be checks in place to prevent federal officials from abusing their positions and violating the civil rights of property owners.”
Background. Harvey Frank Robbins owns the High Island Ranch near Thermopolis, Wyo. A dispute between Robbins and the Bureau of Land Management began over 10 years ago when Robbins purchased the ranch.
The 80,000 acres involved in this case are partly public and partly private lands, and at issue is whether Robbins had a right to deny the Bureau of Land Management access to his property.
In court cases over the past decade, Robbins won two preliminary victories in the U.S. district and circuit courts.
“We’ve heard many stories of government officials failing to respect the Fifth Amendment rights of people in ranching communities,” said Eisenberg.
“But what really strikes a chord with us in this case, is the blatant abuse and harassment of Mr. Robbins at the hands of federal officials.”
Consequences. In response to Robbins’ refusal to grant a right-of-way across his property, the bureau reportedly refused to maintain the road providing access to his property; canceled his right-of-way across federal lands; canceled his recreation use permit and grazing privileges; brought criminal charges against him; trespassed on his property; and interfered with his guest cattle drives.
Robbins eventually shut down his dude ranch business.
“Our western producers interact extensively with government officials and we want to put the government on notice that continued abuses of this kind will not be tolerated,” said Eisenberg.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council plan to submit briefs Feb. 21, and oral arguments are scheduled for March.

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