Originally published in Greenwire, 09/02/2022 01:57 PM EDT
By Scott Streater
The Forest Service had revoked the rancher’s grazing permit after he pled guilty to killing a Mexican gray wolf.
GREENWIRE | A New Mexico rancher who illegally grazed livestock on Gila National Forest for two years even after the Forest Service revoked his permit has agreed to pay $10,000 in damages to settle a federal lawsuit.
The settlement, finalized on Wednesday, covers damages to the national forest associated with a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service against Craig Thiessen and his ranch, Canyon del Buey Inc.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory Fouratt ruled last December that Thiessen’s ranch was illegally grazing the cattle, and trespassing on public lands, for at least two years after the Forest Service revoked the grazing permit in November 2018 (Greenwire, Jan. 4).
The Forest Service did so after Thiessen pleaded guilty to killing with a shovel a federally protected Mexican gray wolf that he had trapped on allotment land (Greenwire, Dec. 18, 2018).
“It is well established that the federal government, like any other landholder, is entitled to protect its property against trespassers,” Fouratt, an appointee of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, wrote in his December ruling.
The Department of Justice, which represented the Forest Service in the case, claimed that Thiessen’s ranch, which he co-owns with his brother, Lance, continued to graze 286 mother cows and 142 calves in the Gila National Forest after an August 2019 deadline to stop using the allotment.
Fouratt last April issued a separate order mandating the rancher remove the cattle from the 48,000-acre Canyon del Buey allotment.
It’s not clear whether all the illegally grazing cattle have been removed.
A Forest Service spokesperson said they could not respond to a request for comment prior to publication of this story. A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on the settlement.
Thiessen’s Albuquerque, N.M.-based attorney, Pete Domenici Jr., could not be reached for comment.
But Cyndi Tuell, Western Watersheds Project’s Arizona-New Mexico director, said she had visited the Canyon del Buey allotment site within the past year and the cattle were gone.
“The land was recovering,” Tuell said. “I saw dozens of elk.”
Craig and Lance Thiessen both signed the settlement agreement. They have 30 days to pay the $10,000 in damages, according to the settlement.
The settlement covers only the damages at the national forest, and specifically does not remove Thiessen’s right to appeal Fouratt’s December ruling that found the ranch was illegally grazing the cattle.
Still, the settlement agreement implies the litigation will be coming to an end. It states the settlement was agreed to by both parties to “avoid the delay, uncertainty, inconvenience, and expense of protracted litigation.”
As for the $10,000 in damages, Tuell said Western Watersheds Project is “disappointed he’s getting off with such a light fine for having killed a Mexican gray wolf and then trespassing on a canceled grazing permit.”
“He should be paying more because it was willful trespass,” she said.
“But ultimately, this is what accountability looks like,” she added. “A rancher does something wrong and they’re held accountable, and that’s a good thing.”