Editorial on Idaho Cattle Association plan to cradle ranchers on state lands

No on a constitutional amendment to protect ranchers from competitive bidding on state lands-

Left: Condition of state land on Lake Creek photo: WWP - July 24, 1994;  Right: Condition of state land - July 18, 2007 - photo: Idaho Department of Lands
Lake Creek was the straw the broke the bovine's back – it prompted the organization of Idaho Watersheds Project (now Western Watersheds Project). Left: Condition of state land on Lake Creek, July 24, 1994 © Lynne Stone; Right: Condition of state land on Lake Creek July 18, 2007

Idaho was given over 2-million acres of federal land at statehood to be managed to provide maximum income for the public schools.. These school endowment lands do make money for the schools, but almost all of it comes from timber sales in northern Idaho.

The bulk of the stand land acreage, however, has been devoted to livestock grazing. In many years it returns nothing to the schools after administrative costs.  It is a nice thing for a few well placed ranchers — low grazing fees and no competition except when once in a while one outfit bids against another to graze the land when the 10-year lease expires.

Jon Marvel and the Idaho (now “Western”)  Watersheds Project changed this after a long battle to allow conservation and others to bid to use the land for 10 years.

Despite outbidding the ranchers only to have their winning bids overturned by the Land Board, the Land Board finally relented after losing lawsuit after lawsuit in state court. In 2007 they formally recognized the right of conservationists to bid and win some of these lands for a decade.  This not only protects and restores the usually overgrazed land;  it puts more money into the public schools. Conservationists are hardly going to snap up all the state lands. They have far too little money for that.

Nevertheless, the powerful Idaho Cattle Association, which nearly rules the Idaho legislature, wants an amendment to the state constitution to allow only ranchers to use these lands. This is at a time the public schools are reeling and Idaho school children even more disadvantaged than usual.

The Magic Valley Times-News editorializes on this latest effort on behalf of welfare ranching. Editorial: Land Board got it right: State lands open to all Idahoans.

Prepare for a disinformation battle. The livestock lobby will be talking about how a little competition will push ranch families off  “their” lands.

A bit more of the backstory can be found here: Lake Creek – Then and Now

9th Circuit: Risch can be tried for federal civil rights violations

Ranchers unhappy about rules that open state land to leases for conservation, recreation
Rocky Barker – Idaho Statesman



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  1. Joseph Avatar

    How exactly is the Idaho Constitution change? Is it a two thirds majority inn the senate?

  2. Dusty Roads Avatar
    Dusty Roads



    Section 15.Manner of passing bills. No law shall be passed except by bill, nor shall any bill be put upon its final passage until the same, with the amendments thereto, shall have been printed for the use of the members; nor shall any bill become a law unless the same shall have been read on three several days in each house previous to the final vote thereon: provided, in case of urgency, two-thirds of the house where such bill may be pending may, upon a vote of the yeas and nays, dispense with this provision. On the final passage of all bills, they shall be read at length, section by section, and the vote shall be by yeas and nays upon each bill separately, and shall be entered upon the journal; and no bill shall become a law without the concurrence of a majority of the members present.

    The Idaho Code is the property of the state of Idaho, and is copyrighted by Idaho law, I.C. § 9-350.

  3. Ken Cole Avatar

    That’s only for bills not the Constitution itself.



    SECTION 1.HOW AMENDMENTS MAY BE PROPOSED. Any amendment or amendments to this Constitution may be proposed in either branch of the legislature, and if the same shall be agreed to by two-thirds of all the members of each of the two houses, voting separately, such proposed amendment or amendments shall, with the yeas and nays thereon, be entered on their journals, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to submit such amendment or amendments to the electors of the state at the next general election, and cause the same to be published without delay for at least three times in every newspaper qualified to publish legal notices as provided by law. Said publication shall provide the arguments proposing and opposing said amendment or amendments as provided by law, and if a majority of the electors shall ratify the same, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Related to this, I think if Idaho passes a constitutional amendment limiting use of the state school lands to grazing, I think there should be a federal lawsuit that Idaho has violated the purpose of having been given these lands — maximum revenue for the public schools.

    We should seek the lands be given back taken back by the United States.

  5. Maska Avatar

    Ralph, that’s an interesting approach—one I haven’t heard proposed before. It bears investigation. Of course, the Feds just announced (as you point out in another thread) that they’re keeping the grazing fee at a rock-bottom buck thirty-five per AUM, so I’m not sure having the U. S. take back the land would lead to much improvement!

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Taking the land back certainly wouldn’t have any grazing fee benefit, but the management of BLM and US Forest Service lands is legally for multiple use, whereas Idaho’s school endowment lands is not; these new rules have the effect of making it somewhat so, however.

  7. Dusty Roads Avatar
    Dusty Roads

    Thanks for finding the appropriate portion of the Idaho Code. I got frustrated trying to find that part. I was hoping someone would get the idea of looking further when I posted that Artcle that I put up.

  8. Maska Avatar

    Good point, Ralph.

    The mere possibility that such a lawsuit could succeed might prove a strong incentive for even the most benighted Idaho voters to reject the proposed amendment.


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