BLM Auctions Cattle Confiscated from Nevada Rancher

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says it has successfully auctioned off 62 head of cattle confiscated from a Nevada rancher last July.

Bu the rancher claims the BLM did not have legal title to the cattle, and his attorney is accusing state and federal courts of protecting federal officials.

The BLM claims the cattle were confiscated from Goldfield, Nev., rancher Ben Colvin because they were "trespassing" on federal land.

The government allocated the land to the Colvin ranch decades ago for grazing purposes. But Colvin stopped paying for his annual federal grazing permit in 1995 because he contends that his water rights under state law also give him the right to the forage on the land.

An attempt by the BLM to auction off the cattle in August was thwarted when Colvin obtained a temporary restraining order from Nevada State District Judge Robert Estes against the livestock auction yard in Fallon where the auction was to take place.

Although Colvin's court pleadings did not mention the BLM, Estes determined that the BLM was an "indispensable party" in the case. The BLM then asked the U.S. District Court in Reno to take over the case.

Last week, U.S. District Judge David Hagen dismissed BLM from the case, declared Colvin's temporary restraining order moot, and remanded whatever was left in the case back to state court.

"But there's nothing left in the case," said Colvin. "I didn't file a case against the BLM. How could the judge dismiss a case that I didn't even file?"

Colvin's attorney, David Horton, added, "Mr. Colvin has been subjected to some strange things. It could make one think the courts are more interested in protecting federal officials than in justice."

Last Friday, the BLM moved the cattle from the Fallon auction house to its National Wild Horse and Burro Center at Palomino Valley just north of Reno, where Tuesday's auction was held.

The BLM accepted only confidential written bids. And although the auction was public, none of the 40 protesters who showed up to support Colvin were allowed inside, according to fellow rancher Jackie Holmgren.

The BLM later issued a statement saying the successful bid amount for the entire herd was $13,000, and the name of the bidder will be released as soon as the sale is finalized. According to the statement, the amount of the sale will be deducted from the $73,000 Ben Colvin owes to the U.S. Treasury for fees and fines associated with the trespass.

"It is unfortunate that the actions of a few livestock operators are attracting negative attention by willfully ignoring the laws and regulations governing grazing on public lands," said BLM Nevada State Director Bob Abbey.

"BLM administers almost 700 livestock permits in Nevada, and 99 percent of the operators are managing their herds appropriately and paying their fees," he added.

But Colvin still insists the BLM had no right to sell his cattle. "I don't see how they can give clear title to the cattle because I haven't relinquished my brand," he said.

Moreover, he said, a third party, neighboring rancher Wayne Hage, filed a lien against the cattle in September because Colvin owed him some money. Colvin said Hage has a writ of possession for the cattle.

Horton said his is not sure if Colvin will take his case back to state court. He said it depends on what Hage does.

Hage could not be reached for comment.
See Earlier Stories:
Ranchers Hope to Halt Federal Cattle Sale (7 Aug. 2001)
Nevada Rancher's Battle with Feds in Legal Limbo (22 Aug. 2001)