Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Proposal would codify landmark stock water decision into Idaho law

A bill will be proposed during the 2016 Idaho Legislature that seeks to codify into state statute a landmark Idaho Supreme Court decision on who owns stock watering rights on federal land. After fighting the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in court for more than a decade, Owyhee County ranchers Tim Lowry and Paul Nettleton were vindicated when the state’s supreme court ruled in their favor in 2007. The parties filed overlapping claims to in-stream stock watering rights during the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the ranchers’ favor because the federal government doesn’t own cows and can’t put the water to beneficial use. The BLM argued that because the federal government allowed the ranchers to graze their animals on the land, the ranchers were agents of the government, so the government owned the water rights. But many ranchers in the area started grazing on that land long before the BLM even existed, said Justice Dan Eismann, who wrote the court’s decision. “People did not come West to be agents of the federal government, so that was easily rejected,” he told legislators and ranchers recently during an Idaho Farm Bureau Federation water rights conference. In this case, “water fights on federal land are appurtenant to the person who is watering the stock,” Eismann said...more

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