Oregon study finds grazing damage in monument

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 17, 2007
by WLJ
—Findings could prompt movement on grazing buyout proposal.

The findings of a recent study commissioned by National Center for Conservation Science and Policy (NCCSP), an Ashland, OR-based environmental group, will be included in a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) analysis of grazing in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon. Ranchers, who have long been battling to keep cattle on the land, could face severe economic hardship if cattle are forced out of the area. The latest report in the long-running dispute could mean that cattle graziers will be the next group forced out of the monument.

The study, released last Monday, was conducted by 10 environmental scientists who worked in cooperation with BLM scientists and Oregon State University researchers to conduct the three- year study which was funded by the World Wildlife Fund. What the researchers concluded was that areas which were heavily grazed by cattle showed significant impacts. As a result, the environmentalists concluded that commercial grazing of cattle is incompatible with the goals contained within the proclamation made by the Clinton administration when the monument was created.

Specifically, the research team found that mixed conifers, oak woodlands, small springs and riparian areas showed signs of livestock damage, including soil compaction, reduction of streamside vegetation, increased delivery of sediment to streams, elevated temperatures and reduced dissolved oxygen levels in springs. Small mammals showed the greatest losses from grazing with 38 percent lower cumulative biomass (total weight) and 20 percent lower abundance in heavily grazed areas. Livestock-related losses were greatest to harvest mice, woodrats and long-tailed voles.

Livestock grazing may have negative effects on predator-prey dynamics by reducing abundance of small mammals that are important prey of the threatened northern spotted owl in southwest Oregon, particularly woodrats and deer mice. And, bird communities in heavily grazed areas had fewer long-distance migrants, foliage gleaners and shrub-nesting species, but higher numbers of ground nesters.

Small springs used heavily by livestock had significantly higher temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen concentrations.

The researchers presented the findings to BLM officials last week who will include the results in their own analysis due out later this year.

“We’re incorporating their findings with all the information we received that’s pertinent to evaluating rangeland health and whether grazing is compatible with the proclamation,” said John Gerritsma, Ashland Resource Area manager for the BLM’s Medford District.
The same proclamation which created the monument in 2000 directed BLM officials to retire grazing allotments if they were found to be incompatible with “protecting objects of biological interest.”

Prior to the release of the report, public land grazing has been a touchy subject in the region. Last year, a proposal was floated in Congress by Oregon’s two senators to buy out grazing rights in the monument, a move supported by Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. However, the proposal never made it to the floor during the vote.

“I think buyouts should be rare,” Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, R-OR, said last year when announcing the legislation. “But these circumstances are unique and are putting the squeeze on our ranchers. This legislation is needed to keep them in business and in the saddle. Instead of turning to the courts, two interested parties found common ground to solve this problem. That’s the Oregon way and a great basis for legislation.”
Andy Kerr, director of National Public Lands Grazing Campaign, a group which is also working to retire public lands grazing permits, said he is hopeful the bill can be reintroduced before the end of the year.

“We hope to get the legislation introduced in the next few months,” Kerr said. “The bill is what we call a ‘two-fer,’ it has bi-partisan support from Oregon’s two senators, one Republican and one Democrat, and it contains something that opposing sides (ranchers and environmentalists) want. Politicians love that and we are optimistic this bill can make it through the congressional gauntlet.”

He said time is of the essence in the matter and it would be best for everyone involved in the matter if it is resolved before the release of the BLM study this fall, which he believes will reach similar conclusions to those reported in the NCCSP study .

“We want to compensate the ranchers for these leases,” he said. “Is that what the ranchers want? No, it’s not their first choice; they love their work, but they see the handwriting on the wall.”

Kerr said the congressional proposal to retire the grazing leases in the monument includes $300 per permitted animal unit month. In addition, he said the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, another involved environmental organization, will also include what Kerr called a “significant confidential payment,” if the measure makes it through Congress.

“It’s critical that this be passed before BLM releases their study because they will want to change how things are done. There will be shorter lease periods, ranchers will have to wait longer in the spring to turn their cattle out, streams will have to be fenced, and BLM will want guys on horseback out there to herd cattle away from riparian areas. None of that’s good for the ranchers and it will be harder to get compensation for these guys. Nobody wants that; we want an equitable solution for the ranchers,” Kerr said. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor