From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 103, Number 23 - February 8, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

State says no: Legislature works to “clear up” language on leases

by Julia Stuble

Can state grazing leases be bought…and not grazed?

When an anti-grazing group bids on grazing leases, livestock interests draft a bill to protect the cows’ lands. House Bill 318 recently received a unanimous “do-pass” recommendation from the House’s Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, chaired by its author Doug Samuelson R-Cheyenne. This bill “clears up the language” regarding the uses for state grazing leases, according to Samuelson.

“There are people who want to use a loophole to [not graze],” said Samuelson, noting that his bill gets the statutes for leases back to the “original intent of the law.” HB 318 amends the current statutes by adding the statement that applicants for leases must have an “actual and necessary use for the land and available forage.” State lands can be leased for grazing, recreation and industrial purposes.

In November 2006, an anti-grazing group out of Idaho, Western Watersheds Project (WWP), put in bids for expiring grazing leases on 20,000 acres. This acreage is in chunks at the southern end of the Wind River Mountains, near Jeffrey City and Cokeville. WWP bid $21,090 for the 40 expiring leases, which comprise this acreage.

WWP deliberately targeted expiring leases that have previously been held by Jim Magagna, who is the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association. For Magagna’s leases, WWP bid $3,225.

Due to a bureacratic bumble, however, WWP has not heard back from the state over whether the application has been accepted. According to WWP’s director Jon Marvel, Jim Whalen of the Office of State Lands was unaware of WWP’s name change from Idaho Watersheds Project. WWP has been registered in Wyoming for six years with their current name, yet Whalen forwarded the application to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office for review.

Western Watersheds has had no communications from the Attorney General’s Office, leaving their bid application in a paperwork purgatory.

The holders of the expiring leases have until the end of March to match bids with WWP, though they will have to dig farther into their pockets than they’ve had to before. WWP’s bids are double or triple the usual bid for these leases.

For WWP, the price is worth it in order to give the land a rest from grazing. Marvel bristled at the thought of “just to let it rest,” clarifying that “I would call it…benefit the natural vegetation and wildlife by not having livestock present.”

“We are willing to pay three times as much and not harm the landscape,” Marvel explained. “I’d say that’s a good thing.” This is not the first time that WWP has tried to outbid grazers for the leases, though their last attempt several years ago was unsuccessful, as the grazers matched WWP’s bid.

As funds from the bids go directly to public education coffers, Marvel was pleased that in that instance, at least, “we did increase the returns for the school trust by tripling the bids.”

HB 318 may have no bearing on WWP’s November bids, as it is unclear if it will be applied retroactively. However, it will restrict future attempts by the group to rest public lands they feel are being detrimentally-impacted by grazing.

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