Molly Ivins told how the Western Watersheds Project came to be.

Once upon a time it was the Idaho Watersheds Project. Now on the occasion of her losing battle with breast cancer, in the honor of the late Molly Ivins, here is her 1998 article as to how the Idaho Watersheds Projects was born (with colorful characterizations of Idaho politicians present and past . . . buckling your seat belt is not a government plot, Helen!)

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Idaho solons make ours look good

By Molly Ivins

AUSTIN — The ineffable Dan Burton, chair of yet another committee out to get President Clinton, has issued a citation of contempt against Attorney General Janet Reno for failing to provide confidential documents concerning her investigation of 1996 campaign-finance scandals. You will be happy to learn that Burton last week voted against the Shays-Meehan bill to fix the worst of the problems in campaign financing.

Good on those who voted for the bill, including 61 Republicans with enough sense to buck their own leadership.

Meanwhile, I have been to Idaho and so am feeling better about Texas. Although Texas may be represented in Congress by Huey, Dewey and Louie (Dick Armey, Tom DeLay and Bill Archer), at least we don’t have to claim Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, and Rep. Helen Chenoweth. Sheesh, what a bunch of darbs.

Try this for people’s representation: Kempthorne slipped a rider onto the 1999 Defense Authorization Bill that will expand the Air Force bombing range in Idaho’s Owyhee Canyonlands by 12,000 acres, which in turn will impact at least another 2 million acres, despite the following facts:

The U.S. Air Force has said in court it doesn’t need an expanded bombing range in Idaho and already has existing bombing ranges in Idaho, Utah and Nevada.

Public hearings over the past 10 years on this proposal have averaged 6-1 against the expansion.

The area is not only pricelessly beautiful, a sister of the Grand Canyon with some of the most dramatic white-water rafting in the country, it is also the largest roadless area in the Lower 48, contains the largest stock of bighorn sheep in the country and is full of mule deer and Indian artifacts. It is the ancestral burial grounds of Paiute-Shoshone tribe, and these Indians are already assaulted daily with sonic booms and low-flying jets.

But that’s not the best part. It turns out that a rancher named Bert Brackett, who is also a big giver to the Republican Party in Idaho, runs cattle on the land in the expanded bombing range. He doesn’t own the land, he’s just been leasing it for a long time for $3,000 a year. Now, if this expanded bombing range goes through, Rancher Brackett can still run his cattle on the public land, but his cows could be traumatized, so Sen. Craig wants to compensate him — with up to $1 million. Brackett’s daughter happens to work for Craig. Nice, hey?

The matter of grazing permits in Idaho is beyond funny. Jon Marvel of the Idaho Watersheds Project, which is hell-bent on getting cattle out of Idaho rivers and streams because they destroy the riverside (their defecation poisons fish, they silt up the rivers, etc.), has been having some wonderful adventures.

At one permit auction, Marvel opened the bidding at $30, and the local rancher who had held the permit said, “That’s too damn much. I’m not bidding.”

The rancher then appealed to the Land Board, which awarded him the lease. After a two-year legal fight, the Idaho Supreme Court said the board couldn’t give a permit to someone who hadn’t even bid. A new auction was held, the rancher bid $10, Marvel bid $2,000 — and the Land Board awarded the rancher the lease.

In another case, Idaho Watersheds Project was the only applicant for a lease, as the previous holder’s permit had been canceled for non-payment, and the Land Board voted 4-1 to award nobody the lease. Then, the Legislature passed a law saying nobody could bid on a grazing permit unless certain criteria were met, mostly not being Jon Marvel. Over the last four and a half years, Idaho Watersheds has applied for over 80,000 acres of expiring leases. It once bid on a 640-acre lava bed and failed to get it.

Marvel has exposed the good-ol’-boy system that allows these these permits to be sold off for a fraction of their market value, costing the taxpayers an arm and a leg. Of course, this makes him about as popular in Idaho as a sick whore trying to get into the seminary.

About 80 percent of the population of Idaho lives in urban areas (if you consider Twin Falls a city), and as near as I can tell, they all love the wilderness. Yet they continue to elect people dedicated to destroying it in the name of “multiple use.” “Multiple use” means you let the welfare ranchers, the timber companies and the mining corporations destroy whatever they want to and then pretend you are protecting the wilderness.

The Idaho Land Board is comprised of the state’s top five elected officials, including Ann Fox, the superintendent of public instruction, who theoretically would have a special interest in maximizing grazing fees since the money goes to the schools. However, Fox has said, “It’s important to keep all these leases in the hands of ranchers because Idaho’s economy is dependent on them.”

Actually, public-lands ranching provides one-seventh of 1 percent of the employment in Idaho and one-third of 1 percent of the gross economic product. Fox also has said she doesn’t think the children of Idaho need more academic courses, but they do need shooting ranges.








  1. be Avatar

    her humor, wit, and truth will be missed.

  2. Jean Ossorio Avatar
    Jean Ossorio

    Molly was one of the wildest “wild wimmin” of my generation and an inspiration to the rest of us. She could slice through the thickest political baloney with a mere handful of witty words. May she forever run with the big wolfpack in the sky! ^..^

  3. kt Avatar

    Her column Ralph has posted shows just how bad Idaho was – and now it may be even worse! Molly Ivins was feeling good to be back in Texas, land of Tom DeLay and his ilk, after getting a whiff of the corruption and/or greed in Idaho.

    There is a key difference in where the corruption is played out. Texas has only a tiny bit of public lands – Idaho has a lot. Here politician corruption and greed flourish in matters related to their cronies, especially their rancher and ag buddies.

    Then ESA-hating Senator Dirk Kempthorne brought home the pork in the million dollar deal for the rancher Brackett described above. If you trace the interconnections in this greedfest – you will see it is a very few of the folks getting their nest feathered. Jani Brackett Revier, the daughter of the rancher Bert Brackett described above, was a Larry Craig staffer at the time of the Bombing Range million dollar deal. She then later became a staffer for now-Idaho Gov. Butch Otter when he was a congressman in DC …. andwas married to a staffer for, I believe, Simpson at the time.

    BUT the million deal Kempthorne Bombing Range deal – it was “compensation” for rancher Brackett’s discomfort for moving his cattle off less than 12,000 acres of BLM and ID state land where they were grazed under a BLM permit – not an acre of private land was involved. 12,000 acres is a tiny allotment. Well, it turns out the same rancher – Bert Brackett – his cows have NEVER even left grazing the Bombing Range lands. As part of the further political pork here, the Air Force now grazes MORE of Brackett’s cows than were grazed before on the very same 12,000 acres of the Bombing Range where Kempthorne handed U. S. tax dollars to Brackett to get the cows off (this is all found in AF “Mgmt Plans”).

    AND even worse for sage grouse and other critters, the Bombing Range legislation mandated building a plethora of livestock projects on OTHER BLM lands for Brackett as part of the million dollar deal.

    BOTH Kempthorne’s Juniper Butte Bombing Range and the Brackett cow projects and the continued Brackett cow grazing occur largely ON TOP of slickspot peppergrass habitat that is rapidly being destroyed.

    In early January 2007, USFWS again refused to list slickspot peppergrass under the ESA, through interjection of politics at high levels. This is despite the fact that FIVE YEARS ago, slickspot was already in such a perilous state that the Snake River office of Fish and Wildlife Service had itself prepared a Final Rule to list slickspot peppergrass.

    And then, a small cabal of the same old greedmonger ranchers got wind. Mike Crapo and other Politicians wrote to FWS quashing that listing, saying “ranchers and the Air Force were concerned”. Now five years later, slickspots have been permanently destroyed by cattle trampling, and invaded by weeds. Every credible scientist believes that slickspot needs to be listed – but the deathgrip of the public lands livestock industry continues. There is a lot more to this story … this is only part of it.

    If anyone believes even remotely that the now Kempthorne de-listing of wolves and tossing their fate into the hands of Otter, will not be fraught with political intrigue, greed and ultimately a disaster for the gray wolf, I’d be happy to tell them more about the illustrative tale of slickspot …

    The deep involvement of a small clique of Idaho good old boy ranchers and ranch sellers in the Idaho 2002 gray wolf plan (Ralph listed the names on the plan a couple days ago – and 6 of the 7 had rancher ties and are the wolf country counterparts of the Juniper Butte Jarbidge intrigue and one has even figured prominently in slickspot and OSC intrigue) illustrates how sick and flawed the wolf process here already is. Now, with Kempthorne as Sec of Int, Otter as Gov, and Wheeler as head of FG Commission, and OSC who has long been involved in promoting laughable rancher myths related to slickspot all chomping at the bit to take over “management”/slaughter of wolves …

    OH, and Kempthorne’s Bombing Range – it isn’t even really needed any more for U. S. training – the Singapore Air Force is coming here to Bomb … there is an article a couple of week or so ago on the WWP Blog on this. .See also .

  4. Zen Avatar

    I am am sorry that I have never heard of her before Ralph’s post. She has everything correct. And there is not much of it I even knew about.

    Funny how the truth is hidden and one can go out into the wilderness and find nothing but livestock.

  5. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Good post kt! It is unfortunate that there are no dem lawmakers from idaho on this Congress. I think that there should be congressional oversight to this delisting process. Anybody agree? How do we contact legislaters out of our own districts? Mine, John Salazar, will only respond to folks within his district. But something has to be done. Any ideas?

  6. Jerry Hannelly Avatar
    Jerry Hannelly

    Molly Ivins was a national treasure.
    She will be sorely missed

  7. Zen Avatar


    Good post kt! It is unfortunate that there are no dem lawmakers from idaho on this Congress. I think that there should be congressional oversight to this delisting process. Anybody agree? How do we contact legislaters out of our own districts? Mine, John Salazar, will only respond to folks within his district. But something has to be done. Any ideas?

    Comment by Rick Hammel — February 2, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

    So why was my post deleted for answering Rick’s post? Did I provide a porn or a spam link?

    Come on Ralph, don’t insult me. I will refrain from posting here in the future.

    I didn’t delete your post. My guess is the spam filter picked up your email “nakedindian66” as spam. I try to go through my spam, but as visits to this site have grown, the spam has grown more than proportionately (sometimes 300 spam messages a day). Sometimes I miss legitimate messages among the spam, and it gets deleted.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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