August 29, 2004
The Eugene Register-Guard
Politicians should act on Siskiyou compromise
Suddenly, ranchers and conservationists are laying down their weapons and extending
olive branches over grazing on Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument near
Conservationists want to remove cattle from the only monument in the United
States created solely to protect biological diversity. And the ranchers, formally
the environmentalists' arch foes? They want to remove their cattle, too.
In the turbulent history of the Cascade-Siskiyou Monument, this is a stunning
development. The two sides and their sympathizers have feuded over this landscape
for more than 20 years, and when President Clinton named it a national monument
in the waning days of his presidency, residents of the Rogue Valley almost came
But the monument is an Oregon treasure. Located at a biological crossroads
that bridges the Cascades and globally significant Siskiyou Mountains, the monument
hosts plants and animals not found together anywhere else in the world. In the
monument there are also newly discovered species yet to be named by scientists.
In addition, the monument holds close to 100 ancient native sites and remnants
of the historic Oregon-California Trail.
About a dozen ranchers hold valid grazing leases predating the creation of
the monument. The monument's charter bans grazing if it is determined that cattle
are creating an adverse effect on the area's unique biological features.
The Bureau of Land Management is studying cattle impacts now, but results are
not expected until 2006. And even then, the agency says it probably will be
years before the government issues a final decision.
For the ranchers, this investigation might not represent the proverbial writing
on the wall, but it has made them hesitant to bet tens of thousands of dollars
in legal costs on an uncertain result if the grazing study lands in court. As
for the conservationists, they want to begin environmental restoration and protection
of the monument's outstanding features without further delay or damage. These
are the separate but dissecting interests that have brought the sides together.
Scientists have to be more thorough than the rest of us. But as one of the
"rest of us," I have seen cattle impacts that are clearly harmful
to the monument's distinct population of redband trout.
On Keene Creek, a tributary to Jenny Creek, streamside willows are often denuded,
grasses are reduced to stubble, and in and around the water cattle tracks are
ankle deep. Loss of riparian foliage can warm a stream to lethal temperatures
for trout, a cold-water fish. Siltation from wading cattle is a near perfect
way to ruin spawning beds.
An even better measure of cattle impacts is the difficulty researchers have
had finding many places within the monument's 53,000 acres that have been spared
from grazing to work as a "control area" - an area in which plants
and animals can be compared and contrasted with those in heavily grazed areas.
Now that the ranchers and conservationists have come together, they have joined
to lobby the Oregon congressional delegation. Last week, spokesmen for several
legislators said their bosses were willing to consider the idea.
Well, they should be!
How often do political adversaries from opposite sides of the barbed-wire fence
ask the delegation for the same thing? By orchestrating a public buyout, the
legislators can resolve a major headache for themselves and the region, better
protect Oregon's newest national monument, financially compensate an aggrieved
portion of their constituency, and save the federal government millions of dollars
in litigation and the cost of overseeing an economically marginal but costly
This is a rare win-win solution - the kind that problem-solving legislators
usually love. When I was in the business, I would have thought of it as manna
Sources say that the congressional delegation is generally supportive - but
that Sen. Gordon Smith is the one who can make or break this compromise. For
the good of the land, taxpayers and the ranchers themselves - here's hoping
Smith gathers in this heaven-sent manna soon.
In the political wilderness, miracle alliances between traditional adversaries
do not happen every day. This is refreshing nourishment to the body politic
that should not be left to spoil.
Former U.S. Congressman Les AuCoin lives in Ashland. He was Oregon House
majority leader from 1973 to 1975.
(Also appeared in Medford Mail-Tribune on August 29, 2004.)