On Tuesday September 28, Idaho Watersheds Project outbid Idaho mega-sheep rancher Brad Little for the right to a ten year lease on 777 acres on Idaho school endowment lands near Boise, Idaho. This lease and the two Simplot leases mentioned below were among the 26 thrown out by the Idaho Supreme Court in two unanimous decisions in April 1999. The lease, in two parcels (80 acres and 697 acres), includes almost two miles of Cottonwood Creek within two miles of the city limits of the Idaho state capitol. Rancher Little's family owns over 50,000 acres of private property in southern Idaho and holds grazing leases to more than 200,000 acres of federal land. Little is also a current board member of High Country News (HCN), a biweekly which focuses on western public land and related issues which is published in Paonia, Colorado. HCN often supports sustaining public land ranching without regard to the public cost of doing so. Little opened the bidding for $100. and the bidding ended with the winning bid by IWP for $1,500. Little declined to state if he would appeal the auction to the Idaho Land Board within the 20 day appeal period. In all previous auctions in which IWP has been the high bidder, the losing rancher has appealed the auction results. In all those cases the Land Board has awarded the lease to the rancher and not IWP.
On Wednesday, September 29, Idaho Watersheds Project was outbid in two auctions by Simplot Livestock Co. President, Tom Basabe. Simplot Livestock is a small part of the 3.8 billion dollar business empire of potato king, J.R. Simplot who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. The leases of 640 acres and 160 acres included over two miles of tributary streams of the Bruneau River, Sheep Creek and Marys Creek. IWP was outbid for the Sheep Creek lease after several raises in the bidding by a bid of $2,000. to IWP's final bid of $1.950. Simplot won the Marys Creek lease with a bid of $1,500. to IWP's final bid of $1,400. The latter lease is unusual in that Simplot livestock cattle do not graze the lease which is located in an allotment permitted to another centimillionaire rancher, Pete Jackson of Tuscarora, Nevada. Basabe did not provide an explanation as to why Simplot would bid $2000. for a lease his company's cows do not graze !
These three auctions do provide an indication that ranchers are now realizing that they must bid for conflicted grazing leases or risk losing them permanently. The auctions also reinforce IWP's long term contention that public lands ranchers will pay more for forage than they now are obliged to pay. Simplot will now be paying approximately $10.00 per AUM for the school land grazing leases or 7.5 times the fee charged on adjacent federal land.