A court recently held that a permittee which held a Term Grazing Permit with the Forest Service was not protected from liability for injuries its predator control dogs caused to a cyclist. The court’s ruling hinged on its interpretation of the rights held under Forest Service grazing permits. The permittees are ranchers whose permit allows them to graze sheep within the White River National Forest. A cyclist who was participating in a permitted bike race sustained serious injuries when she was attacked by the permittees’ predatory control dogs. The permittees argued that the cyclist was a trespasser under Colorado’s Premises Liability Act which prevented the cyclist from asserting common law theories of liability. They also argued that, while Colorado had a dog bite statute, they were not subject to strict liability under that law because they fell under the working dog exemption.
Focusing on the legal rights provided under a Forest Service grazing permit, the court concluded that the permit demonstrated that the permittees, by accepting the permit, consented to the cyclist’s entry onto the property covered by the permit. The court noted that a grazing permit does not confer a right to exclude others from the area covered by the permit. The court also concluded that, because the cyclist was participating in a race authorized by a Forest Service permit, she was a licensee for purposes of the Colorado law. The court also found that the grazing permit was “merely a revocable privilege that creates no property interest in the federal land it covers.” Because the grazing permit gave the permit holders a very limited interest in the use of the federal land and was revocable, the court concluded that their dogs were not working on their property. Therefore, the exemption under the Colorado dog bite statute for dogs working on the property of their owners did not apply.