- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 21, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - State officials are looking at possible changes to grazing fees on 1.7 million acres of endowment land.

The Idaho Land Board started the yearlong process Tuesday that could result in changes to a rate formula that has been in place since 1992.

“I think it’s time to look at the formula and make sure it’s doing what we want it to do,” said Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, one of the five Land Board members. “I suspect that rates will go up.”

The Land Board is constitutionally obligated to manage the state’s 2.4 million endowment acres received at statehood to get the greatest long-term financial return for state beneficiaries, primarily public education.

State officials say Idaho grazing rates appear to have fallen behind when compared with what private landowners charge and what neighboring states charge for their trust grazing land.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing the right things out on the land in terms of prioritizing our resources and making sure we’re getting our revenue for the endowment,” said Diane French, grazing program manager for the Idaho Department of Lands and a member of an advisory group working on what is being called grazing rule methodology review.

In the last 22 years, Idaho’s grazing fee as measured by an animal unit month, which among its definitions is the amount of forage needed to feed one cow and one calf for a month, has fluctuated between $5 and $6.89, she said.

The schedule for the methodology review is for an advisory group to provide the Land Board with possible alternative rates next spring followed by public meetings and comments, with a final decision in the fall.

Denney, who is chairing a Land Board subcommittee that includes Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, said he plans to attend at least some of the public meetings scattered around the state.

Besides reviewing the rate formula, French said, the advisory committee will also consider other options, including a possible two-tiered system that separates out more desirable grazing land. But all that has yet to be worked out.

In a statement to The Associated Press, state Controller Brandon Woolf, also a Land Board member, said the “grazing community has been a good customer and partner for the Department of Lands and the Land Board in producing revenue off of these lands, which may not produce much of anything but expense otherwise.”

The advisory group includes state officials from the Idaho Farm Bureau, Idaho Attorney General’s Office and Idaho Department of Education. Various other groups are also represented, including the Idaho Cattle Association by its executive director, Wyatt Prescott. The Nature Conservancy is represented by that group’s Idaho Deputy Director, Lou Lunte.

Prescott and Lunte didn’t return calls from the AP on Wednesday.

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