Hages provide solutions to PRFW - Couple details property battles with government
(Note: This is an excellent, well-written article!)
December 22, 2005
Property Rights Foundation of the West brought Wayne Hage, left, to speak at the Country Steak-Out about his experience fighting for water and property rights Wednesday. His wife, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, right, is a former Congresswoman from Idaho. Erin Hooley/Fort Morgan Times
By Chris Marcheso email@example.com
Fort Morgan Times staff writer
Fort Morgan Times
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Fort Morgan, Colorado 80701
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Ranchers and farmers have been and still are in a war for private property rights throughout the U.S., and Helen Chenoweth-Hage said if the war isn't won, ranchers and farmers face losing as much as if the U.S. would have lost World War II.
Helen and her husband of six years, Wayne Hage, spoke Wednesday at the Country Steak Out, 19592 E. Eighth Ave., to nearly 200 people involved with the Property Rights Foundation of the West, a non-profit organization in Fort Morgan designed to protect and preserve, through information, education, advocacy and support, the individual property rights of farmers and ranchers in the area from state and federal government takings.
Wayne is a rancher in Tonopah, Nevada, geographically in the center of the state, and has spent 14 years in federal courts defending his property rights as both the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had continually cited and charged him for various violations. At one point, in a 107-day working season, he received 40 citations and 70 visits from the two agencies.
So Hage, along with his first wife (now deceased) and his five children, waged a war against the federal government and has been in and out of courts for the past 14 years and is still involved with Hage v. United States, a case that is still in litigation and has become influential in the fight for property rights for ranchers and farmers in the U.S.
"A right undefended is a right waived," Wayne said. "We have to get away from just talking about our problems together and start talking about solutions. People who are truly claiming rights are the people government wants to leave alone."
Helen, congresswoman of Idaho from 1994 through 2000, has also been influential in protecting property rights as she served as chairwoman to the House Forestry Sub-Committee in her second term and is currently serving on the Board of Directors of Mountain States' Legal Foundation and Defenders [of] Property Rights. After marrying Wayne in 1999, she returned from Congress with him to his Nevada ranch where took on the role of a rancher's wife and helped to progress Wayne's fight for his property.
"I wanted to get back where the real people and the real life was," Helen said. "And this life is worth fighting for."
When it comes to property rights cases for ranchers and farmers throughout the U.S., the two most common misconceptions that Nevada rancher Wayne has seen is a misunderstanding of what property really is in property rights cases and knowing what questions to ask in which courts.
One of the primary reasons taking cases are lost is a lack of knowledge as to what property is. The majority of lawyers, as well as farmers and ranchers, say in their cases that the property being taken is what Wayne called the subject, or the physical property like land, wells or water. But what is actually being taken away is the access to the property and being able to make beneficial use of the property, Wayne said, and that is what should be defined as property in a case. The physical property will be there, but government often prevents farmers and ranchers from accessing the subject of property.
"Property and access are synonymous," Wayne said.
Another very significant reason for losing these cases is lawyers taking them to the wrong court. Most of the cases he has seen have been filed in Federal District Court, but this court doesn't have jurisdiction over property valued at $10,000 or more; most takings cases exceed $10,000. Wayne said these types of cases must go to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and while he has worked to make this known, lawyers are continually told they have "the right question in the wrong court," he said, when they don't take cases to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Wayne said he knows of five lawyers who know how to adequately handle and present these types of cases, but one is now a judge for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
"Make sure your lawyer gets the right question in the right court and make sure both he and you understand what property is," Wayne said.
When taking a case to the state or federal level, Wayne said the most powerful tool a farmer or ranch can have is an exhaustive chain of title. Providing just a title or deed, as well as title insurance, is not enough to show true ownership. These are usually referred to as color of title, basically documents that don't truly state one way or the other who the title really belongs to.
An exhaustive chain of title, which Helen worked diligently to get for Wayne, begins with a title or deed and must be traced back by each change of deed between grantees and grantors back to the first source document when the property was first owned, which Wayne said is usually a patent. Once all certified documents from the respective county can be traced from the original source to the current title or deed, Wayne said any kind of government has no dispute as to the ownership of the property.
Helen said there are incidents when documents can be destroyed or, in Wayne's case, his current county used to be part of another county, so Helen had to go to the old county to get documents. All documents can be traced somehow, whether it be through title books, water books, marriage licenses or newspaper accounts, among others.
"If you've done your homework, you can cram that down government's throat," Wayne said.
With an exhaustive chain of title, the property becomes a vested right for the owner and Helen defined a vested right as "absolute, complete and unconditional in itself" and "cannot be taken away unless though due process and just compensation."
Although they want to, Helen said many ranchers and farmers are beginning to not trust their governments.
"The law is on your side," Helen said. "You really have a great case in front of you."
A long road
Both Helen and Wayne said the war has not been easy. At one point, Wayne was put in an ankle bracelet and faced felony charges for "damaging federal property." But Helen said often times, violations and charges he received included things like having trash on the edge of his allotment and when Wayne went to inspect it, it was trash the forestry service had left; he received a fence maintenance violation on his property and after traveling almost a day to get to where the violation was as it was about 4,000 feet higher in elevation than the base of his property, the violation was for one staple that was missing in a fence post, and once when Wayne's cattle had stepped over his property line, the forest service brought in military action, confiscated his cattle and took them to an auction house in Nevada to be sold. When the auction house wouldn't take the cattle for not being properly transferred, the forestry service took them to California to be auctioned and charged Wayne for the confiscation and transfer.
Wayne's five children often received ridicule in school for being a Hage, as the family had made a name for itself fighting the government, and Wayne said once someone emerges himself in a case like this, he will most likely be fairly lonely for a while.
"People that used to be your friends and neighbors often turn their heads from you when you become involved, and they try to maintain a good relationship with the federal agencies," Wayne said. "You become well-isolated. Just be sure to know what you're doing, why you're doing it and stick to your guns."
Helen said both she and Wayne are hard-headed people who are determined to continue this war.
"It's absolutely amazing that the beautiful state of Colorado is doing what it's doing to your property rights," Helen said. "When we win, they lose. We can do it in the end."
Copyright 2005, Fort Morgan Times.