Idaho ranchers unhappy about new state lands rules

The Idaho Land Board sought to end a decade-old battle over grazing endowment lands in 2009 by approving rules to make it possible for conservationists and sporting groups to bid for state land leases long exclusive to cattle and sheep raisers.

Now the Idaho Legislature must decide whether to veto the rules - aimed at increasing funds for schools - or let them pass. The Idaho Cattle Association hopes for a constitutional amendment that can keep ranchers from being forced off of lands they have always used that are integral parts of their businesses.

The 1.8 million acres of state grazing land have long been identified by financial experts and economists as an under-performing asset among the state's 2.4 million acres of endowment lands - lands left to the state by the federal government when Idaho was formed. The Idaho Constitution requires the Land Board - made up of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, controller, treasurer and state schools superintendent - to maximize the long-term return for the schools and other trustees.

"The Constitution doesn't say protect their way of life," Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said of ranchers. "It doesn't say protect the ecological system."

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