An appeals board has upheld the rejection of two applications to graze cattle on a former ranch that is now part of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
The Interior Board of Land Appeals in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 21 agreed with U.S. Department of Interior Administrative Law Judge Harvey C. Swetzer's 2005 decision denying the grazing requests filed by San Francisco attorney Jennifer Walt, whose family owns the Box D Ranch, which is adjacent to the monument.
In summary, the board concurred with the Bureau of Land Management that it was obligated to prioritize protection of the monument created in 2000 for its rich biological diversity and that permitting grazing was inconsistent with those priorities.
The roughly 53,000-acre monument is on the BLM's Medford District where the Siskiyou and Klamath mountains intersect east of Ashland.
Walt had asked the BLM in 2001 and again in 2003 for permission to graze cattle on the former Box O Ranch land. But the BLM, which purchased the 1,200-acre Box O in 1995, rejected her request, citing a need to protect both the former ranch land and the rich biological values cited in the proclamation language creating the monument.
In denying the request, the BLM concluded that "... reintroducing livestock would not be an action consistent with assuring natural ecosystem function and ecological integrity."
Those testifying for the BLM during a hearing before the judge had concluded that overgrazing had reduced the vegetation along Jenny Creek, which runs through the former ranch, and increased the stream's water temperature.
"This affirms our interpretation of the proclamation language," Howard Hunter, the monument's assistant manager, said Thursday of the board's decision.
"We were trying to ensure the biological interest as it relates to the former Box O land," he added. "And we were having great success in restoring it — we wanted to continue with that."
The proclamation language concluded that the monument is home to a "spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose survival in this region depends upon its continued ecological integrity."
Walt had contended the BLM decision violated the Federal Land Policy & Management Act. The entire monument, including the former Box O, should be managed for multiple use, she had argued.
Walt did not return a call from the Mail Tribune. In a 2005 interview immediately following Sweitzer's decision, she noted that grazing experts had testified in her behalf during the hearing that grazing can be good for the landscape.
"Unfortunately, their recommendation was disregarded," she said then. "The judge put more weight on the BLM testimony because they had more access to the property."
Dave Willis, chair of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, which was a formal intervenor on BLM's behalf in the case, applauded the board's ruling.
"The judge made clear that BLM does not have to manage the monument as a national cow pasture," he said.
"Even more, given evidence of cattle damage and the monument's protection purpose, the BLM should not manage the allegedly protected monument as a cow pasture," he added.
Meanwhile, the proclamation directs the agency 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 concluded.
The grazing studies required by the proclamation are expected to be released in October, according to Hunter. A study released earlier this month by a team of 10 scientists hired by the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science & Policy has concluded that cattle grazing harms the monument.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.