Ranchers Fight to Survive

Brian Gregg

You shall not remove your neighbor’s boundary stone, which the men of old have set, in your inheritance. – Deuteronomy 19:14 

In ancient Hebrew culture, stones were often used to mark the boundary between two neighboring properties. Moving a boundary stone meant you were stealing part of your neighbors’ field. It was a serious crime in that time, and for good reason.

Ancient Israel was an agrarian society. They grew crops and raised livestock. To steal part of some-one’s field was to steal part of his livelihood, his ability to provide for his family. Hebrew families were required by law to keep land in the family. In fact, if folks fell on hard times and had to sell the family land, they would have the land returned to them in the fiftieth year, the year of “Jubilee.”

Keeping land in the family was vitally important, because it was the only way to ensure that your descendants would survive. The ability to pass your land down to your children as an inheritance was a sacred right. 

The world has changed a lot since those days. But here in the American West, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, and that’s the vital importance of land for families who make a living raising livestock. With every drop of sweat that you pour into the land, you earn the right to pass that land on to those who come after you.

But what happens when the government casts aside that legal right and no longer values the history and tradition of western ranching? In that case, a ranching family’s livelihood and legacy can be stolen. They can lose everything overnight.

That’s what happened to John and Martha Corrigan. The fifth-generation cattle ranchers in the “three corners” region of southwest Idaho, are direct descendants of the families who homestead-ed the area. When it came time for Martha’s parents to pass down the family ranch, the Corrigans were in for a rude awakening. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) illegally cancelled the Corrigan’s grazing preference on nearby federal grazing lands.

Grazing preferences are a special kind of property right — they guarantee landowners the right to be issued a permit to graze their livestock on federal lands that owners of that piece of land have historically used.

Based on new (and arguably illegal) regulations implemented during the Clinton administration, the BLM now claimed that the Corrigans’ grazing preference for their historical tract of federal grazing land was no longer attached to their nearby ranch. Because the agency did not renew their parents’ grazing permit, the BLM claimed — years after the fact — that this also automatically destroyed the Corrigans’ underlying preference, which was part of the family’s private ranch lands.

A way of life devastated overnight 

Such a thing had never been heard of in the history of American ranching. The BLM simply invented an entirely new legal theory. And even worse, the BLM somehow “forgot” to tell the family that it had cancelled their grazing preference until the Corrigans tried to make use of it years later.

It was akin to moving an ancient boundary stone.

The BLM destroyed their family legacy and their right to make a living. It took something sacred from them.

If we don’t stop them, the BLM will be able to do this to countless other ranching families. That’s why Mountain States Legal Foundation is representing area cattle associations also threatened by the BLM’s action in the case, Corrigan v. Bernhardt.

At MLSF, we believe federal bureaucrats must be held accountable when they break the law and harm ranching families. We are standing up in court to tell the BLM: No, you cannot simply ignore the law and revoke this family’s property rights and decimate their ranch.

We are standing up to tell the BLM: This is one boundary stone you shall not move.  

Brian Gregg is an attorney with Mountain States Legal Foundation specializing in grazing rights and property law.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, after this piece was written, the Corrigan family lost their initial case before the U.S. District of Idaho. But that doesn’t mean this ranch family’s fight is over. The battle against the BLM’s illegal cancellation of grazing preferences has only just begun.

Your support for them and other ranchers is needed now more than ever.

Explore this case

John and Martha Corrigan, et al. v. Bernhardt

View Case
Explore More

New Case Alert: BLM Devastated Idaho Family’s Ranching Legacy

Idaho cattle ranchers Mike and Linda Lee Hanley passed on their ranch to their daughter Martha Corrigan and her husband John, so the couple could carry on the family legacy. Then they learned the government had illegally cancelled their grazing rights.

Standing Up for Southwestern Ranchers

Tom Paterson of Spur Ranch Cattle Company is one of many southwestern ranchers now endangered by environmentalist litigation trying to end grazing on federally managed lands in Arizona and New Mexico. MSLF is determined to protect them.

MSLF Welcomes Nicole Sanders as Major Gifts Officer

Our foundation is proud to announce our latest hire, Nicole Sanders, will join our fundraising team on March 16 as a Major Gifts Officer. Nicole comes to Mountain States Legal Foundation from Students for Liberty in Texas, where she was a senior development officer.

Join the Fight

Since 1977, MSLF has fought to protect private property rights, individual liberties, and economic freedom. MSLF is a nonprofit public interest legal foundation. We represent clients pro bono and receive no government funding. Make your 100% tax deductible contribution today and join the fight.

Donate Now

News Updates