Medford Mail Tribune

August 20, 2003

Editorial: Buy them out

Reducing cattle numbers would ease pressure on the national monument


Cattle have been a bone of contention between ranchers, landowners and the general public since the West was settled. The most recent example is the flap over grazing on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

But the issue of grazing on public land long predates the monument. As long ago as 1997, private landowners in the Greensprings area along Highway 66 asked Jackson County commissioners to expand a livestock district, effectively ending open range on about 23,000 acres of land. The request was unsuccessful.

Now, the national monument has entered the picture. Opponents of grazing say about 600 head of cattle are causing environmental damage to sensitive creeks and plants and spoiling the experience of the monument for the general public.

The Bureau of Land Management has embarked on a costly study of the effects cattle are having on the monument. Cattle ranchers are generally keeping quiet for the time being, although they suggest that some of the damage blamed on their cattle is actually the fault of elk herds moving through the area.

To us, the solution to this dispute seems relatively simple. A majority of the ranchers now running cattle on monument land have said they would be willing to consider selling their grazing leases and moving their animals to private land, as long as the price was right.

Three years ago, ranchers were engaged in serious talks with environmental groups interested in buying the ranchers' grazing permits.

Now, the government is conducting a study that could cost more than $1 million.

It seems to us that money could be better spent buying ranchers' grazing permits, and then canceling them, to limit the number of animals grazing on the monument. Ranchers should not be forced to sell, but those who are willing should be given the opportunity.

This year, nearly 600 cattle are roaming the monument. Reducing the number would go a long way toward limiting the animals' effects on sensitive areas such as creeks and hillsides.

This is not the equivalent of buying out Klamath Basin farmers, where court-ordered limits on water for irrigation have caused great controversy. One danger of buyouts there is that if too many acres are removed from production, the remaining acres would be unable to sustain the area's farm economy.

That's not the case with cattle in Jackson County. Cattle ranching hasn't been a major part of the local economy for years, and even if some ranchers left the business altogether, it wouldn't have the same ripple effect.

Give the ranchers the chance to sell their permits at a price high enough to secure grazing land elsewhere, and everybody wins.