Senate committee approves buyout of cattle ranchers
Siskiyou monument - Ranchers would be paid to keep their cattle off 24,000 acres
WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee Wednesday unanimously approved a delicate agreement that would close 24,000 acres in Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to grazing while paying ranchers to keep their cattle off the land.
The action by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee moves closer to reality a novel proposal that has been years in the making. The bill, which was sponsored by Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, would provide federal protection to the property. In return, ranchers would be paid for releasing their grazing rights by a fund established by environmental and private groups.
"At a crossroad that required balance and long-term vision, ranchers and environmentalists came together and found a way to make this land work for all," Smith said in a statement. "This fair, common-sense solution will keep the issue out of court, keep ranchers in the saddle and protect our precious natural resources."
But not everyone was happy with the plan.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he would introduce legislation in the next week to add federal payments to ranchers who give up their grazing rights. The original agreement called for federal money, but it was removed during Senate consideration.
Walden called it a "bait and switch" that shortchanges ranchers who are walking away from a valuable asset.
"In Washington, D.C., I've learned that you better get it in writing," Walden said in a statement less than an hour after the deal was approved in the Senate. "I've found out the hard way that if you don't have a guarantee in writing, it likely won't happen. By including a guarantee for full compensation, we will ensure that the wilderness and the buyouts reach the finish line at the same time.
"I don't want a pivotal party to this agreement to fall prey to a bait and switch. I want a square deal," Walden said.
Rancher Bob Miller, who helped negotiate the settlement on behalf of himself and four others, said he was pleased with the Smith-Wyden bill even though it offered far less money than ranchers originally sought.
"We feel Smith and Wyden are doing all they can politically to make it happen," Miller said Wednesday.
Miller said the Senate bill cut the payout to ranchers by roughly 60 percent from the amount they originally sought.
The federal payment was deleted at the insistence of committee chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who worried about setting a precedent if federal money was used.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., also objected, arguing that using federal money to buy grazing rights could lead to a wholesale buyback that would seal federal lands from grazing.
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument consists of 53,000 acres southeast of Ashland. The monument proclamation made by President Clinton in 2000 created an uncertain future for grazing within its boundaries and the ranchers who depend on the land for their livelihood.
Charles Pope: 202-383-7819, firstname.lastname@example.org