Idaho Land Board Finally Throws in the Towel

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Western Watersheds Project was created in 1993 to bid for expiring grazing leases on Idaho State School Endowment Lands. The legal fight for this seemingly simple desire for open competition as required by the Idaho State Constitution has taken over 15 years, but finally, it now appears to be over.

With the legal settlement described in the Associated Press story included below, the State of Idaho has thrown in the towel and accepted conservation leasing as well as fair and open competition for expiring grazing leases.

The final blow to the Land Board was their legal liability under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 Section 1983 that prohibits government agents from denying citizens their civil rights and equal protection under the law.

WWP is grateful to Lazy Y Ranch and their attorney Laird Lucas for bringing this successful civil rights litigation that ensures fairness for citizens and a fair return for the school children of Idaho !

Here’s the AP story:

Idaho to pay $50K to settle grazing lease lawsuit

By John Miller, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho agreed Tuesday to pay $50,000 and pledged to follow anti-discrimination rules to settle a federal lawsuit against state officials who awarded grazing leases to ranchers, not the environmentalist who had offered more money.

The Idaho Board of Land has also committed to revising its rules to allow conservation groups to lease state endowment trust lands, a big change after years of fierce litigation. The board's five members are the governor, state controller, secretary of state, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction.

In 2006, Washington state businessman and environmentalist Gordon Younger was the high bidder on seven Idaho grazing leases, but lost when the Board of Land with then-Gov. Jim Risch gave the leases to livestock owners. Younger, who planned to manage the lands to restore what he called "their degraded streams and wildlife habitats," sued in U.S. District Court on grounds he was the victim of discrimination.

Laird Lucas, attorney for Younger's Lazy Y Ranch Ltd., said Tuesday he's optimistic this settlement and the Board of Land's revised leasing rules represent a departure from the past, when conservation groups were bullied out of winning state grazing leases and left no other option than to sue.

"If someone is willing to put up money for conservation on state lands, we want them to be treated fairly," Lucas said. "This is the first time we've achieved reform in how state lands are managed."

The state's new leasing rules, whose changes address more issues than just this lease dispute, await final approval in the 2010 Legislature.

There, they could still face opposition from livestock-industry advocates.

If the rules are rejected, Tuesday's settlement allows Younger to refile his claims against Idaho.

But "if legislative ratification does occur, Lazy Y waives, forfeits and otherwise relinquishes any and all right to refile such claims," according to the pact, which also requires Board of Land members to "recognize their obligation to apply applicable statutes and rules consistent with federal or state equal protection requirements."

The Idaho Constitution demands Board of Land members carefully preserve state endowment trust lands, to secure the maximum long-term financial return to benefit public schools.

Ranchers have contended their industry's impact on local economies should also be taken into account, but that argument has failed to persuade judges: Western Watersheds Project, an environmental group to which Younger is a contributor, in 1999 won unanimous Idaho Supreme Court decisions rejecting grazing-lease preferences for ranchers.

Clive Strong, a deputy attorney general and natural resource law specialist, said Idaho's new leasing rules will help create a level playing field for all parties interested in securing a lease - and help the state avoid costly lawsuits.

"The Land Board recognized the current process was not working and was leading the way to litigation," Strong said. "It was determined to find a better process."

According to Tuesday's settlement, state officials didn't acknowledge wrongdoing, but will pay $50,000 to cover the Lazy Y's litigation fees. Lazy Y, meanwhile, held open the possibility of bidding for the 10-year leases again when they become available.

Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, and David Hensley, Otter's staff lawyer, didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment.


Of the many sections of the Ku Klux Klan Act, the most influential today is the little debated section 1983. The section provides in part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....

The language of the statute is much the same as it was in 1871. Interestingly, the 1874 revisions resulted in the apparently inadvertent insertion of the words "and laws," which has resulted in a large expansion of the statute's coverage. Reference to the District of Columbia and to territories was added in 1979.

Section 1983 allows people to sue for state and local violations of the Constitution and federal law. It enables private citizens to affirmatively enforce these rights. Lawsuits may be brought in federal or state court, and the remedies available for violations include damages and injunctive relief. A key to Section 1983's revitalization was when the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court developed an extensive theoretical framework for the due process and equal protection clauses, under which it recognized a wide variety of federally protected rights. Also, in Monroe v. Pape (1961), the Supreme Court interpreted Section 1983's "under color of law" requirement to cover cases in which state and local officials were not acting in accordance with state law but in violation of it. This was the beginning of a series of interpretations that loosened the judicial stranglehold on civil rights legislation that had been passed during the Reconstruction era.