Enviros sue state land board

  Better - but not good enough - says a coalition of Oregon environmentalists that is suing the state land board to institute "truly competitive bidding" for leases on state-owned land. In a break from tradition across the West, the board in July opened the bidding process so that conservationists could compete with ranchers for leases (HCN, 7/25/94, 8/22/94). But bidders don't compete in an auction-like setting, says Bill Marlett, director of Oregon Natural Desert Association, which is one of the plaintiffs. Sealed bids are submitted to the land board and only the current lessee, who is usually a rancher, has the option of topping the highest first-round bid. The coalition wants the land board to eliminate the ranchers' first-right-of-refusal and void existing leases previously awarded without competitive bidding. Ranchers, meanwhile, have filed a lawsuit of their own. They want the land board to sign "compensation clauses' requiring any new lessees to reimburse ranchers for the value of the subsidized grazing. Only one lease now has a compensation clause: It calls for a $93,000 reimbursement. The environmental coalition, which also includes Oregon Natural Resources Council and Rest the West, says compensation clauses bar new applicants from bidding on leases.

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