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A federal judge has ruled in favor of an Otero County ranching family in a water rights dispute that has spanned two decades.

The Goss family filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service more than 20 years ago after being denied access to portions of their property for conservation purposes. That included a stream the Goss’ said was crucial to the success of their ranching business.

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., began working with the Goss’, the USFS, and the Federal Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2003, forming an agreement still currently in place that allowed the ranchers access to the water for their cattle.

On Friday, Chief Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a decision in the Goss’ favor, stating the USFS’ actions constituted takings under U.S. law and violated the right to beneficial use of stock water sources under New Mexico law.

Braden ruled the USFS violated the Fifth Amendment clause that states “private property (shall not) be taken for public use without just compensation.”

“This decision has been a long time coming,” said Pearce. “I have been working on this issue since Jimmy and Frances Goss were still with us leading the fight for their rights and their ranch. They wore their life out fighting the federal government. Now, I’m pleased to see that justice is served for the Goss family and ranch.

“As a rural state, we rely on the production and success of small, locally owned businesses. It is a shame that the federal government impeded on the operations of one of the largest ranching and cattle operations in Arizona and New Mexico. Rather than having the freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the Goss family was tied up for over 20 years in court, paying out-of-pocket to afford the battle.”