This morning (December 14, 2004) the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners (the Land Board) voted to stop leasing the 16,300 acre Lacey Meadows grazing lease on the Weippe Prairie in Clearwater County, Idaho. The motion to close the lease area was made by Governor Dirk Kempthorne.
Western Watersheds Project Online Messenger readers will recall that WWP won this lease at auction in 2000 but has had to take the Idaho Land Board to court and continue a seemingly endless fight to gain the lease or see it retired permanently from livestock use.
The Land Board's decision to close the lease area to livestock is a huge victory for the land and WWP.
Here is the News release sent out by WWP today:
Boise, Dec. 14: Capping a four year effort, Western Watersheds Project today won a decision from the Idaho State Land Board to retire 16,300 acres of state lands from livestock grazing indefinitely.
The lands - known as Lacey Meadows - are located south of Weippe. The Lewis and Clark expedition first encountered the Nez Perce Indians here, who literally saved their lives. The 16,300 acres lie within the Lolo Creek watershed - habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead - and are managed to provide income for state schools.
"These lands have enormous historical and recreational value for hunters and fisherman," said Gene Bray, a board member of Western Watersheds, "but they have cost the state more money to manage for livestock grazing then the income grazing produced - and the cows were destroying the area's streams, soils and vegetation."
Western Watersheds has sought for more than a decade to improve management of state lands and increase income to public schools by offering to paying more for state leases and not grazing them, to allow damaged lands to recover.
On the Lacey Meadows parcel, Western Watersheds outbid the grazing operators in 2000 for a 10-year lease. The Land Board initially rejected that higher offer, asserting that grazing was a necessary management tool.
But a state court reversed that decision in 2001, ordering the Land Board to conduct a hearing on whether grazing would aid management or harm the land. After that hearing, the Idaho Department of Lands changed its position and agreed that grazing was damaging the resources of Lacey Meadows and producing little if any income.
The Department thus recommended - as Western Watersheds has advocated all along - that grazing be eliminated indefinitely on the Lacey Meadows parcel.
At its meeting today, the Land Board adopted that recommendation, deciding to stop leasing the land for grazing in order to protect the state's forest resources from livestock damage. Governor Dirk Kempthorne, Superintendent of Schools Marilyn Howard, and Controller Keith Johnson all voted to support the Land Board decision (Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Secretary of State Ben Ysurrsa did not participate).
"The Land Board has finally acknowledged that certain lands can be much more valuable if they are not grazed by livestock, because grazing yields so little income and harms the land," added Bray. "This is what we have been saying for years, and what the science shows beyond doubt. I'm encouraged that the Governor and other members of the Land Board are now seeing this."