Cattle grazing on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument harms the flora and fauna the monument was created to protect, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has concluded.




In a long-awaited assessment expected to be released today, the agency found that cattle grazing on the monument, created by presidential proclamation in 2000 to protect its rich biodiversity, does not meet the proclamation's intent, said Howard Hunter, the monument's assistant manager.




"We have determined the grazing practices are not compatible with the proclamation, meaning we are not adequately protecting the tangible and intangible items in the monument," he said.




The assessment's release kicks off a 30-day public comment period.




The 52,947-acre monument in the BLM's Medford District was established to protect what scientists say is one of the most biologically diverse places in North America. For instance, the monument contains more than 100 species of butterflies.




However, the area has been used by local ranchers for more than a century for cattle grazing when the lower elevation pastures dry up each summer.




Located where the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges intersect, the monument is located a dozen miles east of Ashland. Soda Mountain is its geographic center.




The proclamation by President Bill Clinton directed the BLM to study the impacts of livestock on the "objects of biological interest in the monument with specific attention to sustaining the natural ecosystem dynamics." Should grazing be found incompatible with that goal, then the grazing allotments within the monument shall be retired, it stated.




Eleven ranchers currently hold grazing leases for 2,714 animal unit months on nine grazing allotments within the monument.




An AUM represents the amount of forage required to feed one mature 1,000-pound cow and her calf for one month.




Findings in the BLM's rangeland health assessment included increased noxious weeds and non-native perennial grass, indicating ecosystem health problems where moderate to severe livestock grazing occurred. It also found the rate of recovery in sensitive streams and wetlands where grazing occurred was slower than in areas not grazed.




"The minimum standard for being compatible was to meet the rangeland health standards &

we are not at this time," Hunter concluded.




Beginning today, the BLM's grazing determination will be available at /or/districts/medford/index.php




Following the public comment period, an environmental assessment will be completed in about six months, followed by a decision sometime next winter, he said.




"The decision will be to modify or retire the allotments in the monument," Hunter said. "They will have to be changed. We are not meeting the intent of the proclamation or the BLM's rangeland health standards."




The BLM's determination that cattle grazing harms the monument mirrors a study by environmental groups released last year.




The agency's conclusion didn't surprise Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, which wants the cattle off the monument and federal wilderness designation for it. The proclamation language leaves the agency with no wiggle room if grazing is determined to be incompatible with the goals, he said.




"It's a national monument &

not a national cow pasture," he said.




But rancher Bob Miller of Hornbrook, Calif., whose family has a historic grazing lease on the monument, believes the BLM has some discretion in its grazing decision.




"That isn't a killing factor yet," he said of the agency's conclusion regarding cattle grazing on the monument.




Meanwhile, ranchers and conservationists have been working together to create an arrangement that would allow conservationists to pay the ranchers to retire their grazing leases. The fate of the agreement depends on a Senate bill which would make it possible for conservation groups to pay ranchers to retire their leases. The buyout would include no funding from Uncle Sam.




"We want this bill to pass," Willis said. "All things considered, it's the best resolution to this situation."