For local cattle grazers, bill may bring painful transition

Wednesday was bittersweet for rancher Bob Miller, whose family has been running cattle for more than a century on what is now the 53,837-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument southeast of Ashland.

He is one of five major lessees whose cattle grazing will end on the monument after the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 becomes law. Passed by the U.S. Senate last week, it was overwhelmingly approved by the House on Wednesday and is expected to be signed soon by President Obama.

"It's a relief to get the thing over," said Miller, 68, of Hornbrook, Calif. "We went through the crying stages long ago. This is a major step in what has been a long, rocky road."

He and other ranchers have been working with conservationists to come up with an agreement that would allow conservationists to pay the ranchers to retire their grazing leases. The act includes language that makes the grazing retirement possible. The buyout will include no funding from Uncle Sam.

"This is not what we wanted, but it's better than nothing," said Miller, who added he would have preferred to continue the lifestyle his family has long followed.

The amount being paid to the lessees has not been disclosed.

"Nobody is getting enough to start over again," he said. "It's like selling your house for 20 cents on the dollar. You can't replace it."

But health reasons, coupled with poor market conditions and growing opposition to grazing on public lands, persuaded him to make the difficult decision, he said.

"It's hard," he said. "I'm the fourth generation — for over 100 years my family has been running cattle up there."

The language in the act provides for permanent and voluntary retirement of public lands cattle grazing leases by private buyout on up to 106,672 acres of federal land in and around the monument. The monument is in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

The five lessees represent about 94 percent of the cattle grazing permitted on the monument.

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