Once again the Idaho Land Board has awarded a grazing lease (this one is for 16,000 acres) to the low bidder. Here is WWP's news release announcing legal action to reverse the Board's illegal action. The court case was filed Friday May 7, 2004.
Western Watersheds Project has filed a complaint in Idaho state court challenging the award by the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners of a seven-year lease of state endowment lands to the low bidder at auction rather than to WWP.
The Idaho Constitution requires the Land Board, as trustee of all state endowment lands, to secure the "maximum, long-term financial return" for these lands. WWP was the high bidder for the Lacey Meadows grazing allotment when the 10-year lease came up for auction in 2000.
In addition to flouting state law, the Land Board awarded the lease to the lower bidder, Lacey Meadows Grazing Association, despite an administrative law judge's finding in October that WWP's management proposal for the allotment "will reduce any erosion by domestic livestock," "improve stream function and increase the value of forage in riparian areas" and "increase forage productivity in upland areas" while "reducing impacts of any livestock trespass."
The LMGA, which holds the Lacey Meadows lease, has been warned on several occasions by the Idaho Department of Lands that it has failed to adhere to requirements for livestock management on the allotment.
"Western Watersheds Project is showing the way to higher financial returns for Idaho's public schools with fewer management headaches," said WWP executive director Jon Marvel. "Unfortunately, the Land Board does not care about the greatest benefits to our schools and will need another round of judicial intervention to understand what its job really is."
Several years ago, WWP (then Idaho Watersheds Project) submitted a high bid of $8,000 for the 10-year Lacey Meadows lease. After an informal hearing, the Land Board awarded the lease to the lower bidder, LMGA.
WWP challenged the decision, and Judge Deborah Bail of the 4th Judicial District Court in Boise ruled that the Land Board violated Idaho law when it awarded the lease. Bail then granted WWP a contested case hearing.
WWP contends it should be awarded the Lacey Meadows lease because the conservation group offered the highest bid at auction, and because its management of the allotment would require less time and money of the state over the period of the lease.
"The Idaho Constitution requires the Land Board to 'carefully preserve' state endowment lands and manage them for maximum long-term returns.," said Laird Lucas, attorney for WWP. "The evidence here shows clearly that Western Watersheds Project will manage Lacey Meadows better and restore productivity to the lands while contributing more money to the state. The Land Board has again violated the constitution, so again we have to take them to court. It's a waste of taxpayer money."
WWP was founded in 1993 to compete at auction for leases on state lands that have been severely degraded by livestock grazing. Since then, the conservation group has expanded its efforts to protect all western watersheds and has offices in five states including two in Idaho.
The 16,300-acre Lacey Meadows allotment is near Weippe, Idaho, on the Weippe Prairie, where Lewis and Clark first encountered the friendly Nez Perce Indians.