The United States Forest Service over the past twenty years has systematically used the federal Endangered Species Act to deprive the Goss Family of their vested property rights on the Goss' cattle grazing allotment in the Sacramento Mountains near Alamogordo, New Mexico.The Goss Family is successor to cattle operations that have existed in the Sacramento Mountains since the 1880s.The Goss Family consists of Spike and Kelly Goss and their children.In order to sustain the cattle, the Goss Family requires forage and water.Under an existing permit from the Forest Service the Goss Family has access to forage within the Lincoln National Forest.For water, the Goss Family relies on historic rights to water within the National Forest that were appropriated under New Mexico territorial and state law prior to 1907.The use of the water rights on Federal lands was confirmed to the settlers by the United States Congress under the Mining Act of 1866 under the laws and customs of the territories or states.43 U.S.C. section 661.
The Goss Family acquired the cattle operation in 1989 as the Sacramento Grazing Association, and was issued a ten year grazing permit by the Forest Service.Although the permit has been renewed three times in 1999, 2009 and 2019, the terms of the permit have been altered significantly to exclude from the Goss grazing allotment areas where endangered species and protected riparian habitats exist.In May 1998, the Forest Service fenced off seven primary water sources that the Goss Family owns.The Goss Family also is excluded from one of its pastures during certain times of the year to protect an endangered species. With the listing of the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse, the Forest Service has fenced off two other large areas of the allotment containing Goss Family water rights and one of which contains all of the cattle processing facilities for the Goss Family. The situation is made worse by the Forest Service’s failure to control a non-indigenous elk population which consumes the Goss’ water, forage and destroys fences.
Not only has the Forest Service restricted the Goss Family from using vital parts of their allotment, they have reduced their cattle numbers from 553 to 330 and they are attempting to reduce them again to only 103 head of cattle. All on an allotment that historically ran 1300 head of cattle. The water rights that have been affected are ones that are the most valuable, stable, reliable and secure water sources on the grazing allotment.The Goss Family has suffered millions of dollars in damages from the Forest Service actions because: 1) fencing off these water rights has diminished the value of the Goss ranch; 2) removing access to the water rights and reducing the number of cattle they can run has substantially reduced their income from the loss of sales of calves; and 3) the historic rights to use the water in the fenced areas and in one of their pastures has been prohibited by the Forest Service, requiring leasing of water and pastures from third parties.
The actions of the Forest Service amount to an inverse condemnation or taking of the Goss Family property under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The Goss Family filed a takings claim in 2004 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, but the case has not yet been resolved.The Goss Family won a summary judgment ruling that the water rights on the grazing allotment belonged to the Goss Family.A trial on liability was held in 2010 and the trial court held in 2017 that the Forest Service had physically taken the Goss Family water rights in the seven exclosures where endangered species exist. Following a motion to dismiss, a new trial court judge held that SGA's water rights are not valid, despite having a water license from the New Mexico State Engineer.SGA has filed a petition with the state court to validate its water rights.
For the sake of protecting endangered species and riparian habitat, the Goss Family has been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.The Forest Service is using the Endangered Species Act as a weapon to force the Goss Family out of business.The Goss Family should not be expected to bear the entire burden of protecting endangered species and should be compensated for the losses they have suffered. Environmental regulatory actions like these are what is driving American small businesses out of business.
As of 2022 the Goss Family has an outstanding balance of$30,000 in legal fees and is expected to accrue more before this legal battle is resolved. This is a battle not only for the Goss family livelihood, but to ensure the validation of pre-established water law for all New Mexicians. This is also a battle against the attack on ranching customs, culture, and western way of life. Any donation would be greatly appreciated and will go directly to legal fees and other expenses to fight this government overreach.