RENO, Nev. —(AP)— The federal Bureau of Land Management said Friday it will delay auctioning off cattle seized for alleged illegal grazing on federal land while it awaits a federal judge's decision on challenges to BLM's authority.
``The cows are going to stay where they are at. We are waiting for Judge Hagen to give the final decision,'' BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said.
U.S. District Judge David Hagen will review recommendations of a federal magistrate and issue the final ruling. But that ruling isn't expected until at least next month.
The BLM decision came after U.S. Magistrate Robert McQuaid released a complicated recommendation that lawyers in the case say will require further intepretation.
``It doesn't leave things clear in my mind,'' said Michael F. Mackedon, a lawyer representing the owner of the Fallon Livestock Auction yard where the confiscated cattle are being held. ``It leaves the question open at this moment in my mind as to how you're going to deal with the cattle.''
The magistrate recommended to Hagen that the BLM be dismissed from the case while rancher Ben Colvin's legal bid to block an auction returns to state court in Fallon. But that state court action apparently can proceed.
``BLM is pleased the court agreed it was proper to remove the case against the BLM. We're pleased the court found that the U.S. cannot be sued for the claims Colvin is pursuing,'' Worley said.
Natalie Collins, public affairs officer for the U.S. attorney's office in Las Vegas, declined comment on the BLM's authority to sell the cattle under McQuaid's recommendation. She also said it isn't clear if the BLM would be a party to the state case, in which Colvin sought a restraining order against Snow's livestock yard to block the auction.
``All of that is being evaluated. It is still up in the air,'' Collins said. ``As far as we are concerned, we have been dismissed from the case.
``This is very confusing, partly because we don't have the final District Court ruling and we don't know what is going to happen when it goes back to state court,'' she added.
David Horton, a lawyer representing Colvin, said he agreed with the recommendation by McQuaid to remand the case to state court, but not with the removal of the land agency from the case.
Mackedon said his initial reading of McQuaid's recommendation is that the BLM was within its authority to seize the cattle it said were trespassing on federal land.
``To truly understand the judge's ruling will take more than surface reading of the order itself,'' Mackedon said. ``Clearly the BLM can go forward. ... it doesn't prevent them from continuing to assert their claim.''
The BLM seized the 62 Colvin cows in July, saying he and rancher Jack Vogt trespassed on federal land with unauthorized grazing and owed the government more than a combined $350,000 in back fines and fees. The agency said the two ranchers have been warned since 1995 about their continued illegal grazing.
The two ranchers, along with anti-government activists under the banner of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, say they do not recognize the BLM's authority to manage public land.
``As far as we are concerned, we do not consider the federal government to have any more legal jurisdiction over the unsold lands in Nevada than a tourist passing through,'' said O.Q. Chris Johnson of Elko County, committee chairman.
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