Another chance for Soda Mountain

While most folks were planning their Thanksgiving dinners last November, Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden quietly reintroduced their bill to buy out grazing leases on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and designate the wildest portions of the monument as a new wilderness area.

A similar measure died without action when Congress adjourned in 2006. This time around, with the Democrats in control, there should be a better chance of passing the bill by the end of 2008.

We have supported this measure in the past and we continue to do so, not least because it represents four years of hard work by cattle ranchers and environmentalists to find a mutually acceptable way to end grazing on monument land.

The bill would provide one-time federal payments to ranchers holding Bureau of Land Management grazing leases on and near the monument. The payments would help the ranchers secure grazing land elsewhere or retire from ranching. In exchange, the ranchers would permanently waive the grazing leases they now hold.

At the same time, the measure would designate 23,000 acres on the south side of the 53,000-acre monument as the Soda Mountain Wilderness. The designation would protect that portion of the monument from any future development.

Monument rules can allow commercial logging, future grazing and the use of vehicles on trails. Of the three, only grazing is permitted in wilderness, but in the case of the monument, if all grazing leases are bought out, the Soda Mountain Wilderness would be essentially cow-free.

President Clinton created the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by proclamation in 2000. That gave limited protection to a unique confluence of plant and animal life at the point where the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges connect.

It would be difficult to identify an area more deserving of wilderness protection. Oregon lags far behind its neighbors in this regard. Only 3.7 percent of the state is protected wilderness, while 10 percent of Washington is wilderness and California boasts 14 percent.

Smith and Wyden deserve praise for resurrecting this effort as Senate Bill 2379 in the 110th Congress. They will need the help and support of their House colleagues to shepherd it to final passage.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat and a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, is a longtime supporter of the monument. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican whose 2nd Congressional District includes the monument, should lend his support as well.

Share This Story