December 14, 2004

Ashland Daily Tidings

Editorial: Time for senator to get involved in cattle buyout

If anyone is paying attention in the offices of Senator Gordon Smith, it seems like the time for them to recognize an unique opportunity now available to them.

The Jackson County Stockman's Association and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council - two groups that have feuded like the Montagues and the Capulets - are nearing an agreement that would end the contentious issue of private cattle grazing on public lands of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. One hike through an overly grazed, cow-pie splattered monument is enough to illustrate why the two groups have been at odds for quite some time. That archaic government laws allow the ranchers to graze public lands virtually without cost makes clear why the association would be invested in keeping things as they are.

But despite their apparent differences, the two groups are both waving their arms trying to get the attention of Oregon Senators Smith-R, and Wyden-D, because, surprise, surprise, they agree on something!

Both the ranchers and the environmentalists want the headache to go away. So few cattle ranchers still use the monument that this is one very rare case where the local stockman's group is willing to accept a buyout of its members' federal grazing leases, and thus, remove the cattle from the environmentally unique monument.

The ranchers want the environmentalists to pay "a portion" of the money. The environmentalists, of course, feel the government should pay the ranchers to end grazing in the monument, because it was the government that let the ranchers run their private businesses on public lands in the first place. But both sides, quite frankly, think a deal can be reached.

Which raises the interesting question as to why Smith has not yet sat down with both sides to get involved. The idea has the backing of such disparate people as incoming Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith and former congressman Les AuCoin.

That Smith hasn't shown much interest in supporting the buyout to date, shows perhaps, just how out of touch with some of his constituency he really is. It's one thing to cater to your core voters by resisting the environmentalists at every turn, but its quite another to have turned such a deaf ear that you can't hear a promising plan that would give you an environmental win that your core supporters can not only swallow, but are indeed asking for.

This is a good time for Senator Smith to put down the Grand Old Party bias just once, and support an idea that Southern Oregonians on both sides of the barbed-wire fence can agree on.