Forage Right Trial Ends With BLM and U.S. Forest Service Employees Found in
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 4, 2012
RENO, NV—Friday, August 31, a
weeklong show-cause hearing ended with Chief Federal District Court Judge Robert
C. Jones finding Tonopah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manager Tom Seley and
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Service ranger (USFS) Steve Williams in
contempt of court. The contempt, including witness intimidation, occurred during
the pendency of the five-year-old forage right case, U.S. v. Estate of E.
Wayne Hage and Wayne N. Hage.
Seley was specifically found having intent to destroy the Hages’ property
and business interests. “Mr. Seley can no longer be an administrator in this
BLM district. I don’t trust him to be unbiased. Nor can he supervise anybody
in this district,” the judge stated in his order from the bench.
The contempt finding was the result of the USFS and BLM having filed suit
against Wayne N. Hage and the Estate of E. Wayne Hage in 2007 but then also
seeking alternative remedies while the case was pending in derogation of the
“The problem is Mr. Seley especially, and to a lesser extent, Mr.
Williams...had to kill the business of Mr. Hage. They had to stop him in any way
possible,” the judge noted as the motive for their contemptuous actions. “My
problem was that you were seeking remedy outside this court,” he added.
The court noted, “You got a random draw of a judge. You submitted to this
civil process.” Then, Seley and Williams pursued their own remedies by trying
to extort money out of third-party ranchers who had leased cattle to Wayne N.
Hage. They issued trespass notices, demands for payments, their own judgments,
and in one instance coerced a $15,000 settlement. All of this was done during
the time the court had jurisdiction over these issues.
Counts against Seley and Williams included filing on top of the Hages’ vested
and certificated stockwater rights with intent of converting those rights to a
new permittee; sending 75 solicitations for 10-year grazing permits in the
Ralston allotment aiming to destroy the Hages’ grazing preferences and water
rights; issuing temporary permits to third parties, in particular Gary Snow of
Fallon, Nev., with the knowledge that Snow’s cattle would drink the waters
belonging to the Hage family; and, finally, the assessment of fines, penalties
and judgments on third parties whose cattle were under the legal possession of
Wayne N. Hage.
Judge Jones remarked about the July 26 Federal Circuit Court of Appeals’
ruling in the parallel constitutional Fifth Amendment takings case, U.S. v.
Hage. The court expressly said the Hages have “an access right” to their
waters. He also noted that the court did not overturn any of the Hages’
property rights that the Court of Claims found the Hages to own. Also, the
takings that were overturned were overturned on the basis that the claims were
not ripe, not because the government was acting correctly.
The hearing began Monday, August 27, with a cadre of agency heads from
Washington, D.C., regional and state offices turning up in Reno to defend their
policies and employees in court. After intense questioning by the court, Judge
Jones made witness credibility findings in which USFS Region 4 Director Harv
Forsgren was found lying to the court, and Nevada head of the USFS, Jeanne
Higgins, was not entirely truthful. After those findings, several other
named witnesses did not testify.
In his bench ruling Friday night, Judge Jones stated: “The most persuasive
testimony of anybody was Mr. Forsgren. I asked him has there been a decline in
AUMs [animal unit months/livestock numbers] in the West. Then I asked him has
there been a decline in the region, or this district. He said he doesn’t know.
He was prevaricating. His answer speaks volumes about his intent and his
directives to Mr. Williams.” The court noted that anybody who is school age or
older knows “the history of the Forest Service in seeking reductions in AUMs
and even an elimination of cattle grazing during the last four decades. Not so
much with the BLM—they have learned that in the last two decades.”
In his findings of witness intimidation, Judge Jones noted: “Their threats
were not idle. They threatened one witness’s father’s [grazing]
allotment.” The judge referenced testimony wherein Steve Williams delivered
trespass notices accompanied by an armed employee. In one instance the armed man
snuck up behind one of the witnesses with his hands ready to draw his guns.
“Packing a gun shows intent,” the court noted.
In explaining the findings to Seley and Williams, the court found there was
“intent to deprive this court of jurisdiction by intimidation of witnesses and
threats against witnesses.” He added, “Where you crossed the line is you
took civil action yourself in order to kill the business of Hage.”
Seley and Williams were held personally liable for damages totaling over $33,000
should the BLM and USFS fail to fund the losses to Hage and third parties. In
addition, Judge Jones imposed an injunction wherein the BLM and USFS are
prevented from interfering with third-party leasing relationships when the
livestock are in the clear operational control of Wayne N. Hage. The judge
ordered Hage to reapply for a grazing permit and ordered the federal government
to immediately issue permits to the Hages for the winter grazing season on the
The judge said he had already written 100 pages of his final decision from the
main trial ending June 6. He indicated his published decision should be
forthcoming in early October. Wayne N. Hage represented himself, pro
se, and Mark Pollot, a Boise, Idaho, attorney, represented the Estate.
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