Conflicting bids over state land leases, and whether prior lease holders should get preferential treatment at the expense of public education revenues has spilled over into the Wyoming Legislature. House Bill 318 would generally point away from conservation groups willing to pay two-to-three times as much for state land leases than the livestock producers who have long held those leases. Read the read in the Casper Star Tribune. Conflicting Leases by Brodie Farquhar.
The Western Watersheds Project has applied applied for almost 20,000 acres of expiring Wyoming State School Trust Land grazing leases, including large acreage leased to Executive Vice-President of the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association, Jim Magagna. Also included in the applications was over 6,000 acres of Wyoming school trust lands in critical Bonneville Cutthroat Trout habitat in the BLM’s big Smiths Fork grazing allotment located near Cokeville, Wyoming. Other leases include ones in the south end of the Wind River Range near Farson, Wyoming and in the huge Green Mountain Common Allotment south of Jeffrey City, Wyoming.
A little background is in order.
Upon statehood most of the states got one section (a square mile) of land from the public domain for the support of the public schools. Some states like Idaho and Wyoming got 2 sections, and a few got 4 sections (Utah, New Mexico).
Today most of these lands do provide, as intended, money for the public schools. However, in almost all cases the money comes from timber cutting and mineral leases on these lands, even though the dominant use in terms of acres and environmental impact is grazing.
These state school land grazing leases are awarded on the the basis competitive bids, but generally speaking, they are passed around to good ‘ol boys and often don’t raise a dime for the public schools.
The Western Watersheds Project (once named the Idaho Watersheds Project) was organized in part to increase the amount bid on these leases by outbidding the good ‘ol boys and then not grazing the land, allowing it to recover from perhaps a hundred years of grazing abuse. So it was a win/win situation — the school kids get more and the land is rested from maltreatment.
In Idaho, the livestock politicians yelled like stuck pigs. Read once again Molly Ivins 1998 column on it. Western Watersheds got a bad name for taking on and exposing those who were abusing the state school lands and shortchanging Idaho’s school children.
Not with me, however, I joined WWP as an Idahoan who wanted better funding of the schools and also one tired of being a second or third class citizen.
Now Western Watersheds is bidding on expiring state school land leases in Wyoming, and can anyone guess how the overprivileged segment of the ranching industry is reacting?