U.S. Supreme Court raps ranchers & other big farm cases

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2000:

Ruling 9-0 against the wise-use orie n t e d Public Lands Council, t h e A m e r i c a n Farm Bureau Federation, t h e A m e r i c a n Sheep Industry Association, the Association of National Grasslands, and the N a t i o n a l Cattlemen’s Beef Association, t h e U . S . Supreme Court on May 15 upheld the authority of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act to impose grazing reform rules governing the use of 170 million acres of leased federal property in 13 states. The Supreme Court ruling finalizes changes Babbitt ordered in 1995 which ended quasi-automatic grazing permit renewal for approximately 20,000 tenured leaseholders; allowed non-ranchers to bid on grazing permits, including for the purpose of holding land as wildlife habitat; and stipulated that fences, wells, and other improvements made on federal land by leaseholders become property of the federal government. A further effect of the ruling is that banks may no longer feel confident in making business loans to ranchers, accepting their grazing leases as collateral in lieu of owned real estate. The net outcome is expected to be more wildlife and fewer cattle and sheep on western rangeland.

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in the opposite direction under state law on April 25, holding in a split verdict that the state legislature is free to dictate that grazing leaseholders must raise livestock, even though a conservation group may bid more for the land. The majority of the appellate justices held that the state constitutional requirement that revenues from state grazing leases go into a trust fund in support of the public schools does not imply a duty on the part of the state to realize maximum returns from land leasing.

The Nebraska Supreme Court o n May 12 upheld a 1982 ban on corporate farming, called Initiative 300, on behalf of Nebraska Farmers Union president J o h n H a n s e n and three coplaintiffs vs. P r o g r e s s P i g, a factory farm owned by one D a v i d Z a h n, which produces about 10,000 feeder hogs per year. Initiative 300 has no direct implications for animal welfare, but does require farm owners to be directly involved in production, and the ruling could have precedental value in establishing the right of the public to set restrictions on how farms operate.

A PETA undercover investigation at Belcross Farms in North Carolina between November 1998 and February 1999 culminated in the plea bargain misdemeanor convictions of production manager R u s s e l l Crawford, 31, and former worker Raymond Sanchez, age unknown, for cruelties including beating, skinning, and partially dismembering a pig in January 1999 who was still alive. A third defendant, Kelly Brown, 30, faces a later trial. The three were the first people charged under North Carolina’s new felony cruelty act, and the conviction is believed to be the first in the state for an offense involving agricultural production.

A county circuit court jury i n Waupaca, Wisconsin, on May 12 awarded damages of $1.24 million to dairy farmers Allan and Bev Hoffmann for harm done to their herd by stray voltage from a deteriorating Wisconsin Electric Power Company line. An often overlooked import of this and many similar verdicts against power companies in stray voltage cases is that the shocks repeatedly held by courts to be severely harmful to cattle are usually much smaller than the jolts given to rodeo bulls and horses to make them buck.

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