April 13, 2007

Medford Mail Tribune

Soda Mountain Wilderness is among proposals before Congress

The proposed Copper-Salmon Wilderness is one of three wilderness areas in Oregon that Congress could act on this year. The others include the 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness proposal in Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument southeast of Ashland and the proposed expansion of the Mount Hood Wilderness.

Last year, the Soda Mountain proposal was included in a bill by Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith, a Republican, and Ron Wyden, a Democrat, to expand the Mount Hood Wilderness Area by more than 128,000 acres. The wilderness study area in the monument already has been determined by Congress to be suitable for wilderness designation.

The senators also included a compromise agreement to remove cattle grazing from the monument by authorizing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to permanently retire grazing allotments under an optional buyout agreement with willing ranchers.

The legislative grazing lease retirement concept has been endorsed by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

Supporters hope the bill will be reintroduced this year, said Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, which has been pushing for the wilderness for more than two decades.

However, its future is closely tied to proposed grazing buyouts on federal land in the area, he added.