United States prevails in National Forest dispute

United States prevails in National Forest dispute

(STL.News) Alexander M.M. Uballez, United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, announced that a federal court has granted summary judgment in favor of the United States as plaintiff in a case involving grazing rights and trespass on National Forest System (NFS) lands.

The case arose after the U.S. Forest Service cancelled a term grazing permit for an allotment on NFS land due to violations of the terms of the permit by the permitholders. The former permitholders failed to remove their livestock from the allotment, contending that they did not need Forest Service authorization to graze livestock.

According to the judgment and other court records, Craig Thiessen previously held a permit to graze cattle on an allotment in the Apache National Forest, administered by the Quemado Ranger District of the Gila National Forest in the District of New Mexico.

In January 2017, while being investigated for a violation of the Endangered Species Act associated with trapping a Mexican wolf, Thiessen requested that the permit be transferred to a newly-formed limited liability corporation, Canyon del Buey, LLC, for which Thiessen was identified as Member, Manager, and Registered Agent.

On May 24, 2018, a criminal information was filed, charging Thiessen with unlawfully taking a Mexican gray wolf in violation of the of the Endangered Species Act. Thiessen pleaded guilty to knowingly taking threatened wildlife.

On Sept. 18, 2017, Lance Thiessen filed an amended application for a term grazing permit on behalf of Canyon del Buey, LLC, and an Ownership Statement for the LLC listing himself as Manager and his brother, Craig, as a Member. USFS issued the LLC a permit authorizing the grazing of 344 cow-calf pairs on Nov. 21, 2017. That permit was cancelled by USFS on Nov. 29, 2018, for violations of the terms of the permit. Specifically, USFS cited Craig Thiessen’s conviction and misrepresentations made by Lance and Craig Thiessen.

The LLC administratively appealed the decision to cancel the permit, and the decision was affirmed by the Forest Supervisor as the appeal deciding officer. The Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region of the USFS decided to conduct a second-level, discretionary review, and also affirmed the decision. In his July 2, 2019, discretionary review decision, the Regional Forester directed Lance Thiessen, as manager of the Canyon del Buey, LLC, to remove all cattle from the allotment within 60 days, which was Aug. 31, 2019.

The Thiessens, acting on behalf of themselves and the LLC, did not remove the cattle as instructed by the USFS. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, brought a civil action for trespass, ejectment, damages, declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to eject Craig and Lance Thiessen and the Canyon del Buey, LLC, from NFS lands located on the Gila National Forest in the State of New Mexico, to compel the immediate removal of their livestock from NFS lands, to enjoin them from using or occupying NFS lands without lawful authorization, and to recover damages arising from their unauthorized and unlawful use and occupancy of NFS lands.

The court found that the continued grazing on the allotment without a permit violates federal regulations and that the Thiessens and the LLC have trespassed on the allotment. In its decision, the court determined that the Thiessens and the LLC did not own a surface grazing estate on the allotment and that any alleged water rights on the allotment did not give them a right to graze livestock on the allotment.

The court permanently enjoins Defendants from trespassing on the Canyon del Buey Allotment, and retains jurisdiction to enforce the Settlement Agreement until Defendants have paid damages to the United States, in its Sept. 1, 2022, order.

The United States was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Cassandra Casaus Currie and Senior Trial Attorney Andrew Smith of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.

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