September 10, 2006

The Oregonian


Untangling barbed wire in Cascade-Siskiyou

Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden back a creative plan to end cattle grazing in the national monument, but it needs the added push that Rep. Greg Walden can provide

Mount Hood is casting such a big political shadow these days that hardly anyone noticed when Oregon's two U.S. senators introduced legislation to create thousands of acres of new wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument near the Oregon-California border.

The proposal deserves broader attention because it is the result of an unusual and hard-won compromise between Southern Oregon cattle ranchers and environmental groups. The legislation, introduced Wednesday by Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, includes language that should lead to a buyout of 17 ranchers whose cattle graze on 100,000 acres in and around the Cascade-Siskiyou monument.

If Congress approves the creative legislation, it could end years of disputes over grazing, avoid a costly lawsuit and forever remove cows from one of the state's most biologically diverse and important natural areas.

It's taken years to get this agreement that's now broadly supported by virtually everyone with a stake in the Cascade-Siskiyou area. The agreement is backed by the Oregon Cattleman's Association, environmental groups and virtually all of the political leadership in Southern Oregon.

The concern now is that not much time is left in the congressional session to get the Cascade-Siskiyou legislation through this year. What's really needed is the active support of Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, R.-Ore., whose district includes the Cascade-Siskiyou monument. Walden has the clout in the House to make or break this legislation, and we urge him to join all the groups pushing the compromise forward.

Not often do so many diverse groups come together on a difficult land issue that involves cattle grazing and the creation of new wilderness. We hope this spirit of cooperation and compromise moves Walden, and the entire Congress, to approve the cattle-grazing buyout and establish a wilderness area in the Cascade-Siskiyou monument.