Laird Lucas graduated from Yale Law School in 1986, worked for a federal judge, and then went into "high-pressure" litigation at a large San Francisco law firm. He has been with the nonprofit Land and Water Fund in Boise, Idaho, for the last six years, representing citizen groups such as Jon Marvel's Idaho Watersheds Project. These days, he says, "I love what I'm doing."
LAIRD LUCAS: "I don't fight
every battle for every environmental group. I'm looking for impact.
It always helps if our grazing litigation or other cases have the
potential to become a model for Idaho and other Western states,
"When you win these
cases, you can really change the terms of the debate. It's like the
saying, "Sometimes you have to turn up the heat for them to see the
light." That's what we're trying to do for Jon in Owyhee County.
We're trying to turn up the heat so the BLM will do
"Jon has done a
hell of a good job putting the fear of God in a lot of people,
especially ranchers. But he has stepped on toes in the conservation
community. Even I haven't always agreed with his tactics. But then,
change is never easy.
things stand today, grazing is a privilege and not a right. The
courts have upheld that principle in the 9th Circuit and before the
Supreme Court. Yet institutionally, grazing is viewed as a
fundamental right and the agencies are loath to challenge
"When the BLM in 1997
automatically renewed 68 grazing permits in Idaho for 1 million
acres, 80 percent were listed as suffering from environmental
problems. The last environmental analysis of those Owyhee County
permits had been done in
"That's why we went to
federal court and asked the judge to break the logjam. If you keep
cows out of riparian areas and springs, you can do a lot to protect
"On the state
school lands, all we had to do was use the language of the Idaho
Constitution itself, which requires that these lands be managed
solely to benefit schools. Cases from other states made it clear it
is improper to use school lands to subsidize an industry like
the Land Board and Legislature fought back by adopting policies and
even the 1995 "anti-Marvel" bill to prohibit bidding on state
lands, the Idaho Supreme Court showed it can read the language of
the constitution. It said the anti-Marvel law was unconstitutional.
Even more amazing, it threw out a constitutional amendment designed
to protect ranchers from competition. The Idaho Supreme Court
hadn't rejected a constitutional amendment since
"What's the key to
winning before conservative Idaho judges? We have to be completely
right on the law and merits of the case."