In the latest of Western Watersheds Project's long line of court victories over the Idaho State Land Board, Idaho District Judge Duff McKee today reversed the Land Board's award of a grazing lease to Chris Black for the Sam Noble Springs state land parcel.
Sam Noble Springs is located in Owyhee County, Idaho 40 miles south of Grandview, and features the largest known hibernaculum of Columbia spotted frogs known in southern Idaho. The spotted frog is designated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a priority candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, due to impacts from grazing, dewatering and other human actions.
WWP first applied for the Sam Noble Springs lease in 1996. The Land Board then refused to consider WWP's application, but was reversed by the Idaho Supreme Court in 1999. WWP then asked the Land Board to reclassify the parcel for conservation rather than grazing purposes, in order to better protect the spotted frogs -- and WWP offered to pay double the grazing lease rate.
Under the Idaho Constitution, the Land Board is supposed to manage state lands to benefit public schools. In practice, the Land Board has frequently used state lands to help prop up the ailing livestock industry, turning down WWP's offers to pay significantly more money for state leases.
On September 11, 2001, the Land Board rejected WWP's reclassification request and again awarded the lease to rancher Black, for half the lease rate that WWP offered to pay. The Land Board turned down WWP's higher offer by asserting that grazing could be made "frog friendly," and offered better long term prospects. But when WWP sought to offer evidence and testimony before the Land Board demonstrating just the opposite -- that grazing is harmful to frogs, and WWP's non-grazing of the land would double income to the public schools from the lease --the Land Board refused to allow WWP to present its side of the story.
WWP appealed the decision to state court. At a hearing yesterday, Judge Duff McKee, in a surprising action, ruled directly from the Bench in agreeing with WWP that the Land Board violated Idaho law by not giving WWP a full opportunity to present its evidence, and reversed the lease award to Black.
Earlier this year, another Idaho state judge, Deborah Bail, also ruled that the Land Board must follow "contested case procedures" under Idaho law when deciding whether to award state leases to WWP or rancher applicants.
As a result of these rulings, WWP now has the right to present scientific evidence showing the harmful impacts and excessive management costs of state grazing management, and to demonstrate the Land Board's poor grazing management track record.
"While the Land Board may not want to learn the truth about the harmful effects of livestock grazing and negative returns grazing has earned for the public schools, we now can force them to confront reality," said Jon Marvel, WWP's executive director.
"This is the seventh straight court case that WWP has won against the Idaho Land Board, and we have never lost any," said Laird Lucas, WWP's attorney. "It is too bad we have to keep going to court to make the Land Board follow the law, but that's the reality in this state," he added.
Earlier this year ABC News sent a television crew to Idaho to cover the conflict between wolf reintroduction and ranching to use as a current example of the historic tension between the states and the federal government in the American form of government. The result will be broadcast across the country as the first one hour segment of Peter Jenning's "In Search of America" series. The wolf segment will run Tuesday September 3, 2002 on ABC television at 9:00 P.M. E.D.T and M.D.T.
WWP executive director Jon Marvel was interviewed by ABC for the program and may receive his 20 seconds of airtime but then again maybe not!
Here is the ABC summary of the hour long program:
Episode One: "Call of the Wild" (Tuesday, Sept. 3, 9 p.m. M.D.T or check your local listings)
An Idaho community resists the power of the federal government in a battle over who controls their land.
"America is the most powerful country in the world but has always struggled with how to exercise power over its own people. America's revolutionary generation was deeply fearful of the power of central government. The argument over states' rights versus federal power was the most heated battle among the founding fathers. Even today nearly every politician running for federal office seems to be running "against" Washington.
In Idaho, where mistrust of federal power often runs high, that profound skepticism has turned to anger and fear since the federal government mandated the return of the legendary gray wolf. Between 1995 and 1997 under the authority of the Endangered Species Act 35 wolves were let loose in Idaho. Now there are at least 250 wolves in the state, and the population is growing. For Idaho's ranchers the reintroduction of wolves is seen as sentimental idiocy that threatens livestock, human beings and their way of life. For conservationists it is the federal government looking to the future and preserving a natural treasure, the government doing what it is supposed to do - protecting the whole nation from the narrow interests of a few."
* Remember WWP was formerly IWP.