United States ex rel. Bergen v. Lawrence
848 F.2d 1502 (10th Cir. 1988)
Under the Union Pacific Act
of 1862, the US partitioned parts of
Wyoming into private sections and public lands in a checkerboard pattern,
where every odd section was private and every even section was public.
The private sections were
given to the railroads in return for building railroads. They were
eventually sold off to various other people.
Lawrence owned a number of
checkerboard squares. He built a fence around his squares that had the
effect of completely enclosing some of the public squares.
Lawrence felt that this was
ok because he had a permit to graze his cattle on the public lands (under
the Taylor Grazing Act).
Lawrence fenced the land to
keep the antelope out. Antelopes were eating all of the grass that
Lawrence had paid for.
The problem was that this long
fence blocked antelope migration. The Federal government told Lawrence to
tear down the fence. When he refused, they sued.
The Federal government
argued that under the Unlawful Enclosures Act (43 U.S.C. §1061), a private landowner like Lawrence did not
have the right to completely close off Federal public lands.
See Camfield v. United
States (167 U.S. 518 (1897)).
The Federal government also
argued that under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) they had the authority to make regulations for the protection
The Trial Court found for the
US. Lawrence appealed.
Lawrence argued that the Unlawful
Enclosures Act was designed to open
the land to other cattle ranchers, it wasn't to open the land to
wildlife. Since Lawrence had a permit that gave him exclusive right to
graze cattle on the enclosed land, there was no legal reason to tear down
Lawrence also argued that he
had purchased an exclusive right to graze that land, and that included
the right to stop wild animals from grazing there.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court looked
to the plain language of the Unlawful Enclosures Act and found that it was unambiguous and did not
mention other cattle ranchers. It simply said you could not build a
fence. Therefore, you can't build a fence, regardless of what the
underlying reasons for the law were.
The Court found that forage
by wildlife was a lawful purpose, and so the Federal government was
within their rights to enforce the Unlawful Enclosures Act for that purpose.