A Wallowa County rancher unlawfully trespassed on public land by grazing cattle without government authorization in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, according to a federal judge.
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman has ruled in favor of the U.S. government in a lawsuit accusing Tyler Smith of repeatedly trespassing in the national forest.
The ruling upholds the earlier findings and recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan, who rejected several of Smith’s arguments against the government’s trespass claims.
The case will now to proceed to trial to determine whether Smith should be subject to an injunction and be required to compensate the federal government for damages.
In its complaint, the U.S. sought to prohibit Smith from using these and other public lands without permission and to recover the cost of restoring the government’s property in an unspecified amount.
Forest Service officials saw cattle with Smith’s “lazy 7p” brand grazing on allotments in the forest multiple times without authorization, even after Smith received warnings from the government, according to court documents.
The rancher has shown no evidence the grazing was accidental or that cattle escaped onto federal land, while the “government’s undisputed evidence gives rise to an inference of intentional grazing,” Sullivan said.
Smith offered several reasons his cattle were allowed to graze on federal land, but the judge said “none of these legal theories has any legal validity” or factual support, according to the ruling.
The rancher claimed that a “quitclaim deed” from his grandfather allowed for cattle grazing in the area, but Sullivan said the deed didn’t encompass a grazing permit that had been revoked years earlier due to violations.
The judge also rejected Smith’s argument that under a “split estate,” he owned grazing rights to the land while the government owned the timber and mineral rights.
“The Court is unaware of any doctrine of property law whereby ownership of land is divided into split estates in the way defendant alleges, and has not been presented with any legal authority for such a theory,” Sullivan said.
Although the rancher disputed the authenticity of photographs showing his cattle grazing on public land, these pictures were “supplemental illustration” to the testimony of Forest Service officials, which provided sufficient evidence in the case, the judge said.