Idaho to pay to settle lawsuit on who can bid for grazing leases

Lawsuit’s aftermath forces Idaho’s Land Board set rules allowing conservationists to lease state grazing lands-

The Western Watersheds Project was born when Jon Marvel outbid a rancher at a state grazing lease auction, and the Land Board gave the lease to the rancher anyway*. Finally, Idaho’s Land Board is apparently going to let other interests compete for grazing leases on the state’s school endowment lands. This is a victory for Idaho’s school children, wildlife. It is also a victory for the Idaho and U. S Constitution, that we are equal under the law . . .  a well deserved slap at Idaho’s livestock nobility.

Idaho to pay $50K to settle grazing lease lawsuit. By John Miller. Associated Press Writer.

I met the winner of lawsuit, Gordon Younger, one time. He is a self-made millionaire, orginally from Washington State. He speaks very directly and is not impressed by Idaho’s livestock nobility. Younger’s attorney was Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West.

This is great! 🙂

Update. Here are the opinions. The first was March 2007.It was a decision by US Magistrate Judge Mikal Williams, which upheld the validity of the equal protection claims under federal civil rights law.
The second is by US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed Judge Williams and held further that the individual state officials could be personally liable because their discrimination against conservationists violated clearly established law. The Ninth Circuit decision is reported as Lazy Y Ranch v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580 (9th Cir. 2008). I couldn’t get an electronic copy of the published version, but have the slip opinion.

Lazy Y March 07 dismiss order
Lazy Y Ninth Circuit opinion

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*Actually Marvel didn’t strictly outbid the rancher. The rancher refused to bid at all. Nevertheless, he was given the grazing lease. Reading about this blatant unfairness, my spouse and I immediately joined Marvel’s  nascent Idaho Watersheds Project.


  1. catbestland Avatar

    This is truly amazing. As I see it, this is the beginning of the state’s landed nobility being forced to accept the fact that conservationists, have just as much right to protect the land and it’s wildlife as ranchers have to destroy it while profiting from it.

  2. jdubya Avatar

    This IS great!! And a long time in coming. Maybe this will serve as precedent for the protection of other lands by conservation groups bidding for land rights. Blocking the Pebble Mine up stream of Bristol Bay is one site that comes to mind.

  3. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    I am glad to see it happen, the playing field should be even and the highest bidder should be awarded the lease.

  4. April clauson Avatar
    April clauson

    Now this is some great news! I hope this can be a real turning point for Idaho lands and wild life. Finale, we are being heard! Thanks for the great news Ralph!

  5. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    Great news! Among the first of what one can hope will be a continuing string of victories against states and the feds (BLM, FS) for the way they award grazing leases.

  6. Elk275 Avatar

    In Montana state land leases are for 10 years. At the end of ten years they are put out to bid and the highest bid wins the lease, but the current lessor has the first right to raise his/her bid and retain the lease. If you want to win that lease make sure that you bid so high that the current lessor will not raise your bid. This is for grazing or farming rights only. Oil and gas are a different animal. It can work both ways if you want it your way then bring plenty of money.

    Secondly, state lands which are generally section 16 and 36 by are used to support the schools. In Montana it has been stress many times that these are not public lands. Until the early 1990’s in Montana the lessor control the tresspass. I donated money for the court case that never came about. Idaho is different and I the last I knew in Colorado the lessor control tresspass to state lands, it could have changed.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    In Idaho the lessor does not control access. In Idaho these school endowment lands, are nevertheless, not regarded as public lands, but they are used by the public as if they were.

    In Wyoming, the lessor controls access, so there they are not de facto public lands.

    Because many of them are sections 16 and 36 and sit in the middle of U.S. public lands, in many areas they are managed by the Forest Service or BLM.

    While the grazing fees are far below market value, I believe that in every state, the grazing fee for these lands is well above the federal grazing fee.

    I assume that when the new rules are developed, the winner of the auction will have to pay grazing fees even if their intent is to run no livestock.

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Actually, one of the most interesting things about this lawsuit is the application of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, as amended. I’m a native born Southerner and I’ve never heard of this law before. However, I expect it might prove to be of great use to activists in the future!

    Non illegitimi carborundum!


  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I’ll try to get the judge’s decision and put it on-line. This is really interesting!

  10. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    A related court decision that’s also relevant to this issue is the case in Colorado that defended the passage of Amendment 16 (the creation of the SLB Stewardship Trust) in the mid 1990’s. I don’t know the case name, but it essentially said that SLB lands didn’t necessarily have to be managed for immediate benefit, and that long-term environmentally conscious stewardship was not contrary to the SLB trust mandate. the case came about because the Colorado SLB realized that Amendment 16 would preclude them from selling some of their lands, so they tried to get rid of many parcels just prior to the passage of the Amendment.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Tom Page,

    Thanks for the information about Colorado. I suppose Idaho might try that too, given the condition of the state budget.

    About ten years ago, probably longer, the Idaho Statesman did a series on the management of the Idaho School Endowment Lands.

    According to the series, they do make money for the public schools, but almost all of it came from timber sales in northern Idaho and leases for things like minerals, recreational cabins, and sand and gravel.

    The grazing program — the dominant use on the vast majority of the acres of state land — generated almost no net income for the public schools.

    I concluded then most of these lands are managed for the personal benefit of livestock operators by the politically friendly State Land Board, and the public schools are not first either in an immediate sense or long-term.

    Jon Marvel came to the same conclusion.

  12. JB Avatar


    Nice to “see” you on the blog again!

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Robert Hoskins and all,

    I have the actual opinions up now in the story.

  14. clay moroney Avatar
    clay moroney

    I’ve not heard about any of this before. How can I become more involved? Im astounded by these people and their barbaric mentality.


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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Ralph Maughan