Bidding war shakes up Idaho grazing leases


Jonathan Marvel, the feisty head of the Idaho Watersheds Project, kicked off a flurry of conflicting bids for Idaho state grazing leases in December. Marvel forked out $1,430 to prevail as the high bidder in three auctions involving a total of 1,320 acres of state land. But the largest sums were bid in auctions that pitted one rancher against another. In one case, Henry's Lake rancher Mitch Jacobs bid $20,000 to hang on to the 1,120-acre Twin Creek pasture in eastern Idaho. That means Jacobs bid about $36 per cow-calf pair to graze 556 head - about seven times the current state grazing fee of $5.15 per cow-calf pair per month.

"I can't help but notice that these ranchers have no trouble bidding against each other," Marvel said, "but in the auctions involving the Idaho Watersheds Project, they all raised the opening bid by $5 and then folded."

Marvel wants to improve the ecological condition of state grazing lands - particularly riparian areas - by outbidding ranchers for the leases and then resting the lands from livestock grazing. The Idaho Land Board rejected Marvel's bid against a Challis, Idaho, rancher last year. That decision is pending before the state Supreme Court (HCN, 7/25/94).

Marvel said he expects the newly elected Land Board, which consists of four Republicans and one Democrat, to reject his bids once again. A decision is expected sometime in February.

"Given the political makeup of the board, I think it's a pretty good guess," he said. "Apparently our money isn't as good as the ranchers'. Maybe we need to bid with dollars that have a picture of (new governor) Phil Batt on the front or something."

Steve Stuebner reports in Boise, Idaho.

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