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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Feds: Grazing doesn't fit Ore. national monument

By JEFF BARNARD , Associated Press Writer, Space & Earth science / Environment
(AP) -- Federal rangeland managers said continuing to allow cattle to graze on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is harming the rare plants, fish and wildlife the monument was created eight years ago to protect.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management was to issue an assessment of the health of the monument rangeland on Thursday, concluding that the current level of grazing is incompatible with the biological values the monument was meant to protect, said monument Assistant Manager Howard Hunter.

Dave Willis, of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, said he hoped the long overdue finding will help pass special legislation pending in the Senate that would make it possible for conservation groups to pay ranchers to retire their grazing leases.

The monument was created in 2000 by President Clinton from 53,000 acres of BLM land near Ashland to protect the unique area, sometimes referred to as the Klamath Knot, where the Siskiyou Mountains connect to the Cascade Range.

The area is home to 111 species of butterflies, as well as the rare Keene Creek pebblesnail and the Jenny Creek redband trout.

The proclamation Clinton signed put an end to the small amount of logging and mining within the monument, but left it up to BLM to settle the thorny question of whether to continue allowing 11 ranchers to put up to 2,417 cows with calves on the monument to graze part of the year.

The rangeland health assessment found the cattle were harming sensitive streams and springs.

The finding marks the third straight study - one by BLM and another by scientists working for conservation groups - to find that cattle were harming the monument, said Dominic DellaSala, director of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy in Ashland.

Hunter said the bureau would go through a formal assessment of whether grazing could be modified somehow to allow cattle to remain on the monument.
DellaSala said it was "game over" for grazing. Building the fences to keep cattle out of sensitive springs and streams would cost $4 million, he said, while the grazing leases bring in just $2,000 a year.

"BLM has just been dragging their feet because there is a culture of livestock grazing at any cost," he said.

A group of ranchers has agreed to be paid by conservation groups to retire their grazing leases if the legislation passes. The bill also would designate about half the monument as wilderness, a higher level of protection.

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) - Avocado growers have lost at least $1 million worth of fruit and about 200 acres of orchards to a wildfire in Santa Barbara County, officials said.

County Agricultural Commissioner William D. Gillette said Wednesday at least 233 acres of orchards have burned.

Gillette estimated the cost to replace trees, farm equipment, and irrigation lines, plus lost production until new trees bear fruit, will be $9.5 million over the next five to seven years.

The commissioner delivered a preliminary report to the governor's Office of Emergency Services on Wednesday. He said it was the first step in helping local farmers get financial relief for crop losses. He said the total losses to ranching and farm lands will not be known until the fire is put out.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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