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Ada County Farm Bureau Aids Ranchers

Bill Bachman and Don Sonke present rancher Paul Nettleton a check to help offset his legal bills.

Boise—The Ada County Farm Bureau Board of Directors voted to make a donation to the legal funds of ranchers Paul Nettleton and Tim Lowry of Owyhee County.

Nettleton and Lowry were each presented $25,000 checks by Ada County Farm Bureau President Don Sonke this past week.

In the late 1990s, the Bureau of Land Management hauled the two ranchers into state court to determine who owned the water rights on grazing allotments traditionally used by ranchers since the late 1800s.

Lowry and Nettleton fought the BLM’s challenge of their stock water rights during the Snake River Basin Adjudication when the US government filed overlapping claims to the ranchers’ stock water rights.

While the decade-long legal fight was successful, the rancher's legal defense cost more than a million dollars and they were denied reimbursement of legal fees.

“Paul and Tim were invited to the September monthly meeting of the Ada Farm Bureau to discuss their case and answer questions from the board,” said President Sonke. “Ada Farm Bureau is in the unique position of having a large membership so we had some extra money to help out.”

Sonke says the good news is that the ranchers have negotiated their legal costs down to $300,000 apiece and have secured 20-year loans to cover their bills.

“This was done with the understanding that the board would ask the state legislature to cover all their legal fees,” said Sonke. “Their legal battle secured water rights on the range for generations, those water rights saved ranching in Idaho as we know it. If the legislature ever refunds them they’ll return this money. But we’re not holding our breath, this was least we could do because they’ve sacrificed a lot.

Bill Bachman and Don Sonke of the Ada County Farm Bureau present Rose and Tim Lowry a check for their legal fund.