Jordan Cattle Action

Wyoming Land Board Votes Small
Increase In State Grazing Fees

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —(AP)— The Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners has approved a new formula for calculating minimum grazing fees that will likely raise the rate.

The formula approved last Thursday is expected to increase the basic fee from $3.50 to $3.54 per animal unit month.

Even with the increase, $3.54 is the lowest among bordering states, according to documents provided to the board by the Office of State Land and Investments.

The average minimum lease rate in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota is $5.32, although other states have different lease terms and conditions, according to the documents.

Secretary of State Joe Meyer said during the meeting that he had doubts about the new formula.

``I'm not sure it's a great improvement over what we do now,'' he said.

Meyer said he was considering amendments, including one that would require an annual report on the new rules. Other board members recommended passing the rules and amending them later if necessary.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Judy Catchpole said amendments should be proposed before board meetings to give members a chance to review them.

Gov. Jim Geringer also advocated adopting amendments later on.

``You come up with the best decision you can for the moment and then adapt,'' Geringer said.

Meyer later said one area he remains skeptical about is setting a statewide market value for grazing.

``I'm not sure you can say statewide what grass is worth,'' he said.

State Auditor Max Maxfield said Friday that the formula raised some red flags, but not enough to merit a vote against the proposal.

``They weren't enough for me to say OK, `We're going to dispose of this rule process and start over,''' Maxfield said.

Although the calculation of an AUM moved from a set rate to a complicated formula intended to take into account market forces and lessee contributions, Maxfield said little changed as far as current prices are concerned.

State law requires the rate to ``reflect at least market value for the same or similar use of the land,'' while including factors that reflect value of state leases as well as changing industry markets.

Meanwhile, a rancher is seeking a court ruling on the constitutionality of a state law that gives preferential renewal rights to the holders of state grazing leases.

The Wyoming Supreme Court dismissed William H. Riedel's first lawsuit on grounds it was not the proper path to get the constitutional question before the court.

The state's preferential right law allows lease holders to match the highest bid of a competitor when 10-year leases come up for renewal.

The new lawsuit was served on the governor and the other four elected state officials on the state Board of Land Commissioners during the monthly meeting Thursday.

The lawsuit raises the same issue as the original lawsuit, which stemmed from the board's decision in early 1998 to renew a 10-year lease held by Craig C. and Gail M. Anderson in Laramie County.

The Andersons were allowed to meet Riedel's higher competitive bid for the lease.

The new lawsuit, again filed on Riedel's behalf by Cheyenne lawyer and former state attorney general Steve Freudenthal, said the preferential right law costs the state $6 million a year in lost revenue.

Because of the law, the revenue either is not spent for the benefit of Wyoming school children or is diverted from other programs.

That causes an increase ``in the tax burden on Wyoming citizens,'' according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the state's preferential right law is unconstitutional. It also asks the court to direct the state board to award the grazing lease to Riedel.

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