Where are the beef?

This whole trespassing cattle thing is a little more complicated than it appears, isn't it?

Actually, it's a lot more complicated - all the way from the stock trailer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

We have to admit, though, to having some fun watching Nevada's ranchers confound the federal bureaucrats.

To bring you up to date: The Bureau of Land Management confiscated about 230 head of cattle from a couple of ranchers because the cows allegedly were trespassing on public grazing lands. The ranchers owe money, the BLM said, and their grazing permits had been revoked.

The cattle were rounded up and taken to Fallon, where they are supposed to be auctioned.

The latest wrinkle - and there's a new one about every couple of hours - has lawyer and rancher Julian Smith saying he bought some of the cows several months ago, and the BLM has no beef with him.

The interesting part of the deal was that Smith wasn't going to take possession of the cows until they were rounded up. "I didn't want to own any cattle that were in trespass," he said.

So he thanked the BLM for rounding them up. Just send him the check after the auction, Smith said.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, there hadn't been any auction. The owner of the auction house, Gary Snow, wanted to see some proof of ownership before he started taking bids.

This gets us back to the due process problem. The BLM says it has authority to confiscate and auction cows in trespass without a court order, and it provided us with the legal opinions to back up the argument.

Neverthless, the complications in this situation illustrate why law-enforcement authorities ordinarily are required to go to court before they can act on personal property. There may be some questions to decide, and a court hearing at least affords the accused the opportunity to raise those issues.

One other note while we're on the subject: While all this is going on, Western Shoshone tribal members in Crescent Valley are fighting their own battle with the BLM over confiscation of livestock.

The Western Shoshones have taken their arguments to the United Nations in an attempt to get the United States to recognize the tribe's rights to graze cattle on ancestral lands they say was part of an 1863 treaty.

The tribal members aren't getting quite the attention of the ranchers. But it seems to us if anybody can make an argument for historical rights to graze cattle, it would be the Western Shoshone Nation.


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