August 10, 2004

Medford Mail Tribune

Ranchers offer to end monument grazing
They want government to buy out their leases

By Paul Fattig

A group of ranchers holding grazing leases in or near the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is asking Congress for a buyout to end their commercial livestock grazing in the area.

In an Aug. 4 letter to Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., a dozen ranchers seek assistance in obtaining "fair and equitable compensation" in exchange for their historic grazing leases, some of which have been held by ranch families for generations.

"We feel that retirement of our grazing leases will be a win-win situation for taxpayers, local government, environmental concerns, rural interface residents and livestock operators without major adverse impacts to the national and local economy, society and the open space concept," they wrote.

The letter is signed by ranchers Bob Miller of Hornbrook and Mike Dauenhauer of Ashland, representing the other ranchers.

To come up with an agreeable solution, Miller and Dauenhauer have been working with environmental activists Andy Kerr and Dave Willis, both of whom have opposed continued grazing on the public land. Kerr is the director of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign; Willis the chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council.

"We all recognize that none of our goals can be achieved by continuing to throw rocks at each other," explained Miller, 64, in an interview Monday, referring to what many have perceived would be an adversarial relationship.

"We also want to reduce this conflict in society," he added. "This conflict has been a big drain on taxpayers as well as on county, state and federal government."

No agreement has been reached on a buyout price.

"We plan to hire an appraiser and appraise it from the standpoint of replacement value," Miller said. "That's what the ranchers will need in order to continue in business."

The ranchers' request, which calls for permanently ending commercial livestock grazing in the affected grazing allotments, is supported by the Jackson County Stockmen's Association and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

That support is contingent on it being unique to the monument and not applicable to other federal lands where grazing is allowed, according to the letter.

The letter also asks that environmental interests pay a portion of buyout costs.

The ranchers aren't eager to ride away from the annual high mountain grazing on federal land, said Miller, whose family has been ranching in the area for more than century.

"We're kind of like the Indians were 200 years ago," Miller said. "Somebody came in and decided they wanted to do something different with the land. We see this as being forced upon us."

He was referring to streamside restrictions contained in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan as well as the creation of the monument in 2000.

"The basic problem is, the government, with the encouragement from the environmental community, has changed the rules and regulations utilizing these lands," he said, noting those changes appear to have society's support.

"What we want is to get a replacement value so the operations that care to can remain whole and remain a viable business operation," he said, noting he may choose to retire.

Ranchers who give up their grazing leases but want to continue ranching businesses would have to purchase property to offset the use of the federal lands, he said.

"We have to be able to replace the forage we are relinquishing with other forage," Miller said. "We would have to purchase other land to support the livestock for that period of time they would be on federal property."

Miller and his wife, Patricia, along with Kerr and Willis, went to Washington, D.C., in March to discuss the potential buyout with members of the Oregon delegation. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, have expressed interest in the effort, Miller said.

"But Senator Smith's support is necessary because Senator Wyden needs Smith's support to carry this through the Senate," Miller said. "We need all three in support if we're going to get this through Congress."

A call to Smith's Portland office Monday was referred to his D.C. office, where no one was available.

Kerr, like Miller, believes there is potential for an amicable resolution.

"The government has changed the rules on these guys," he said, adding the changes have made livestock grazing "increasingly problematic" on the monument land.

"Because these government policies are saying this land is more important than for livestock grazing, I think it's fair the government compensates them for these permits," he said.

Other legislation has resulted in buyouts of grazing leases, he said.

"This shows there is a way to equitably resolve the conflicts between livestock grazing and protecting nature," he said.

Willis agreed.

"Paying private monument-area ranchers public money to take their private cows off these special public lands permanently is a win-win-win deal," he said. "It's the best possible ecological, political and economic outcome for the land, the taxpayers who subsidize public mismanagement of these private cattle year after year ... the ranchers themselves."

Monument status heightened grazing concerns

Created in June 2000, the 52,940-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

The monument is at the juncture of the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges. Soda Mountain is its centerpiece.

The monument was established to protect the unique flora and fauna in the region, which scientists say is a rich biological crossroads, according to the monument proclamation.

The proclamation also said that if grazing practices were found incompatible with the monument's mission, the BLM would have to consider modifying grazing leases to achieve compatibility or retire grazing allotments.

The area within the monument has been used as open range by ranchers for more than a century. Eleven ranchers currently hold grazing leases within the monument for 2,714 animal unit months, or AUMs. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to support one cow or a one cow/calf pair for a month.

The proposed buyout includes a dozen ranchers with leases on nearly 5,000 AUMS because some of the leases are for lands adjacent to the monument.

The current leases will expire in the spring of 2006, according to Howard Hunter, assistant monument manager. The grazing study also is scheduled to be concluded that year, he said.

The BLM has been given authority by Congress to renew the leases on an annual basis, he said.