Western Watersheds Project has offered $20,000 to the Idaho Department Of Lands in an effort to permanently retire the 16,000 acre Lacey Meadows grazing lease in Clearwater County, Idaho.
The lease includes the precise location where Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first encountered the friendly Nez Perce Indians in September 1805. WWP's offer will generously benefit the Idaho public school endowment and several other institutional land endowments, will end the bickering over the disposition of this lease, and will help restore this historic location to a condition similar to what existed two hundred years ago.
Here is Saturday's story from the Lewiston Morning Tribune about WWP's proposal:
An environmental group has offered the Idaho Department of Lands $20,000 to permanently retire a grazing lease near Weippe.
The Western Watersheds Project, led by Hailey architect Jon Marvel, made the offer as a way to resolve an ongoing dispute over who should be awarded the Lacey Meadows grazing lease.
Marvel's group and the Lacey Meadows Grazing Association based at Weippe have been sparing over the lease for four years, with the Idaho Department of Lands and the Idaho Land Board acting as referee.
Marvel says the $20,000 he is prepared to pay will bring the state far more money than it will ever realize if it continues to lease the land for cattle grazing.
"It's a significant amount of return on an effectively nonproductive lease," he says.
According to the department, the lease nets about $266 a year for the state's school endowment and other endowments after administrative costs are figured in.
Marvel's group bids against ranchers for state grazing allotments with the mission of removing livestock from public land and protecting water quality and riparian habitat.
Marvel outbid the grazing association by $500 in 2000, when he offered to pay $8,000 for the rights to the 16,300-acre area near Lolo Creek.
The grazing association appealed and the land board overturned the auction results and handed the 10-year lease back to the ranchers. At the time the board said the land needed to be grazed to reduce the risk of fire. Timber production is the primary use of the land.
Marvel took the land board to court and a judge remanded the decision back to the land board in 2002. In the meantime the ranchers were issued a temporary lease.
The department of lands then found problems with the way ranchers were managing their cattle and cattle from nearby grazing allotments. The area is open range and the lease requires ranchers to keep cattle out of young tree plantations and away from stream banks.
According to documents from the department of lands, members of the grazing association failed to keep cattle out of the plantations.
In 2003, the department's director, Winston Wiggins, recommended the lease be awarded to Western Watershed Project. In a memo to the land board, he wrote that it was a choice "between two equally deficient alternatives."
The ranchers had repeatedly failed to keep cattle out of the plantations, but the environmental group's plan to manage the area was deemed vague.
"I am inclined to favor one party, despite the vagueness of its commitments, over another party that has historically failed to live up to clearly stated commitments," Wiggins wrote.
Ranchers said they would appeal and the land board held a contested case hearing in July 2003. Both sides presented their plans to manage the area and in April of this year, the land board issued the lease to the ranchers on the condition they build fences to keep the cattle out of the tree plantations.
In May, the grazing association asked the land board to reconsider the fencing requirement. At its meeting in June, the land board asked the environmental group and the ranchers to provide more information about the relationship of grazing and timber on the lease.
Marvel responded last week by saying fencing would not be needed if he were awarded the lease, but added the whole controversy could be avoided if the lease were retired.
"If conservationist are willing to pay money up front for these lands to be closed to grazing it's a far better deal for the state and the trust."
A spokesman for the grazing association could not be reached for comment.
Wiggins said he received Marvel's letter and would pass it on to the land board. He declined to comment on the offer.