December 16, 2005

Capital Press

BLM updates grazing study

Tam Moore


A federal grazing study that has gone on for five years and has thus far cost over $368 for every cow and calf grazed on a new national monument is a bit closer to completion.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management last week mailed out an update to its grazing study of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, a 52,940-acre patch of federal lands east of Ashland, Ore., that feeds about 543 cow-calf pairs each summer on seven allotments.

Howard Hunter, the BLM planner in charge of the monument studies, said most studies will come to an end in 2006 and will face another year of analysis before the agency decides if it will allow grazing to continue.

“We’ve already spent $1 million on this,” Hunter said, and costs to wrap up the project are unclear.

The 11 ranchers involved on the allotment have tried for three years to arrange a buyout brokered by environmental groups boosting a cow-free monument. The hangup has been settling on a price that would allow relocation of livestock and the base ranches on private property.

A provision of the executive order reads: “Should grazing be found incompatible with protecting the objects of biological interest, the Secretary (of Interior) shall retire the grazing allotments pursuant to the process of applicable law.”

Two historic allotments are vacant. Hunter said they weren’t in use when President Clinton created the monument in June 2000, and the BLM doesn’t want to offer them now with the possibility they would be canceled if the mandated grazing study concludes cattle are no longer welcome.

Following terms of the executive order, the BLM had to inventory the complex ecological communities that exist where the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains come together, then observe and measure impact of seasonal grazing that runs June through October.

Hunter said the breadth of the study is far beyond anything the BLM does when it does renewals of grazing allotments.

For this study it hired a range scientist and a team of field data collectors, who have been at it for four years. The 94-page update to the study plan issued last week doesn’t have any data.

“This is really a guide to the statistical methods we used, the data we will collect ... and the protocols for how we collect the data,” Hunter said.

“Preliminary findings” will be issued in 2006. Hunter promised that the process will be transparent. “In many ways for these studies, it’s the first time they have been done.”

The BLM identified 33 “special status” plants within the monument. It gave special status to 45 animal species.

Beyond that, dozens of species of butterflies and other insects roam the forest, and its streams have seldom-seen fish and snails beneath the surface.

The monument has been controversial since then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt began holding meetings with locals in 1999.

Information on the monument studies is on the Internet at www.or.blm.gov/Medford/CSNM.

Among the most contentious issue was a boundary that includes more than 40,000 acres of private lands within the monument. Pilot Rock, a column of basalt seen from both sides of the Siskiyous, and Soda Mountain, an ancient ridgetop east of the rock are landmarks in the mostly timbered area.

The Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, which pushed designation of the monument, still advocates a 23,000-acre wilderness area. The BLM designated a study area of less than 6,000 acres that remains a question mark along with the future of grazing. Information on the monument studies is on the Internet at www.or.blm.gov/Medford/CSNM.