RENO - Government lawyers are asking a judge in Nevada to throw out a lawsuit filed by an 81-year-old tribal leader who is seeking $30 million from the Bureau of Land Management in a decades-old dispute over treaty rights and livestock grazing.
The BLM says it confiscated Raymond Yowell's cattle in May 2002 and sold them at auction because they were trespassing on federal land in northeast Nevada without a grazing permit.
Yowell, former leader of the Western Shoshone Indians and a member of its Te-Mok Tribe, says in the suit filed in U.S. District Court last month that the BLM violated his civil rights and his constitutional protections against unwarranted seizure of property.
BLM officials declined comment at the time, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Addington wrote in a new filing in the case last week that there is "no jurisdictional basis for any of the claims."
"For many decades prior to 2002 and continuing through the current action, Yowell has contended that he enjoys unfettered grazing rights or privileges on federal lands - free of BLM's management authority - because of his tribal membership as a Western Shoshone," Addington said.
"Yowell's contention is wholly without merit and has been rejected by final judicial decree several times."
The BLM says he still owes $180,000 in back fines and fees. Yowell says he's suing now because the government has started garnishing 15 percent of his monthly Social Security check.
Yowell asserts the land still belongs to the Western Shoshone as dictated by the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863. He said the BLM had no business taking his cattle from the tribe's historic grazing lands.
"I looked at it as an illegal seizure," Yowell said in a recent interview. "They took cattle without a court order. Now they are taking from my Social Security check."
Under the treaty, the United States formally recognized Western Shoshone rights to some 60 million acres stretching across Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California. But the Supreme Court's 1979 ruling determined the treaty gave the U.S. government trusteeship over tribal lands, and that it could claim them as "public" or federal lands.
A related court battle continues over the legality of the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004 that directed more than $145 million be awarded to tribe members in exchange for relinquishing any claims to the land - a matter that has divided the estimated 10,000 remaining Western Shoshone people.
Addington said Yowell's refusal to accept the court's past decisions make his latest claims "borderline frivolous."
"While Yowell may be sincere in his belief that BLM has no authority to regulate Yowell's cattle grazing operations on BLM-managed federal lands, those beliefs have been rejected with judicial finality," he said.