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Wayne Hage, 69; Battled Government on Land Rights

From the Associated Press

Wayne Hage, who came to epitomize Nevada’s Sagebrush Rebellion as he battled the federal government over public lands and private property rights for decades, has died. He was 69.

Hage, who had been ill from a recurrence of cancer, died Monday at his Pine Creek Ranch near Tonopah in central Nevada, his family said.

He had battled the government since the U.S. Forest Service started scaling back the number of cattle allowed to graze on national forestland in the early 1980s.

He sued in 1991, claiming the Forest Service harassed him for more than a decade after he rejected the agency’s offer to buy his ranch for half what he paid for it. All but 7,000 acres of the 759,000-acre ranch were Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management property on which Hage held grazing allotments.

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A longtime states rights activist and author of “Storm Over Rangelands,” Hage filed a claim seeking $28 million in damages after Forest Service officials confiscated more than 100 of his cattle and suspended his grazing permits in parts of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, saying overgrazing was causing ecological damage on the high desert range.

In 2002, U.S. Claims Court Judge Loren Smith ruled in Washington, D.C., that Hage had a right to let his cattle use the water and forage on at least some of the federal land where he formerly held a federal grazing permit north of Tonopah.

Hage said the water rights came with the Pine Creek Ranch when he bought it for about $2 million in 1978 and those rights carry with them the right to the associated forage.

C.J. Hadley, editor of Range magazine, said Hage was a “bulldog” who “had the guts to go up against the federal government.”

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Born Dec. 21, 1936, in Elko, Nev., Hage grew up ranching. He persuaded his parents to let him drop out of high school to help other ranchers who were struggling during the harsh winter of 1952.

“For a teenage boy, that kind of life -- riding horseback on the open range -- was an adventure that made school pretty dull and uninteresting by comparison, so I just stayed with it,” he wrote in the May 2002 edition of the New American magazine.

He eventually passed a high school equivalency exam and, after serving four years in the Air Force, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nevada.

Hage’s survivors include his second wife, former U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho); daughters Ramona Morrison of Reno; Margaret Byfield of Taylor, Texas; Ruthe Agee of Elko, Nev., and Laura Perkins of Boise, Idaho; son Wayne Hage Jr. of Pine Creek Ranch; and 10 grandchildren. His first wife, Jean, died in 1996.

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