The long-anticipated cattle grazing impact studies on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument were released Thursday afternoon, but the roughly 500-page document contains no recommendation about the future of grazing within the monument.

The long-anticipated cattle grazing impact studies on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument were released Thursday afternoon, but the roughly 500-page document contains no recommendation about the future of grazing within the monument.

"We're not in the decision-making process," explained Paul Hosten, the monument ecologist and scientist heading up the study group.

The studies will help U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials determine whether livestock grazing is consistent with the 2000 presidential proclamation creating the monument, he said.

A decision on the grazing issue is expected later this year. The studies have cost an estimated $1.2 million, officials said.

The 52,940-acre monument in the mountains east of Ashland with Soda Mountain as its centerpiece was created because of what scientists described as one of the most biologically diverse places on the continent. The proclamation directed the BLM 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 stated.

Some of the key findings of the studies include:

The monument has experienced 150 years of livestock influence. The pattern, seasonality and intensity of use have changed over time. There have been many range-related activities, including the use of heavy equipment to clear vegetation, herbicide/fertilizer application and prescribed fires. More than 50 herbs and grasses have been introduced since 1950. A historic loss of perennial bunch grass and conversion to "weeds" occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Intense use by livestock, deer and elk reduces the presence of tiny invertebrates considered intolerant of disturbance.

Although the riparian areas are improving across the land since it became a monument, the rate of improvement in seeps and springs is slower, said Hosten, who is also studying historic vegetation changes throughout the BLM's Medford District.

"There are also populations of weeds that have continued to expand over time," he said, noting that includes yellow star thistle and Canada thistle.

Although the studies contain no recommendations, their completion represents a major step in addressing the grazing issue, observed Howard Hunter, the BLM's assistant monument manager.

"This is just data to do the rangeland health assessment," Howard said. "After that we will begin the environmental assessment process. But we're not there yet."

The goal is to determine this spring whether the grazing on the monument meets agency's standards for rangeland health, he said. The grazing must also meet the proclamation language, he reiterated.

The public will be asked to comment during the environmental assessment phase of the process later this year, he said.

Livestock grazing during late spring and summer has continued through the study period, which began in 2001. There are currently 11 ranchers holding grazing leases for 2,714 animal unit months on nine grazing allotments. An AUM represents the amount of forage required to feed one mature 1,000-pound cow and her calf for one month. Two allotments are currently vacant.

The BLM grazing studies coupled with studies completed last year by the National Center for Conservation Science & Policy in Ashland demonstrate it's time to end grazing on the monument, said center director Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist.

"Both studies provide rock-solid peer-reviewed science to permanently retire livestock grazing in the monument," DellaSala said.

"The BLM needs to put its science where its policy mouth is and remove destructive cows in order to comply with the monument proclamation mandate of protecting the monument's rare species," he added.

Mike Dauenhauer, an Ashland area rancher whose family has ranched in the area for nearly half a century and has run cattle on the monument, hadn't had a chance to review the study when reached Thursday evening.

"In a perfect world, I wish we could keep running cows up there forever," he said. "But that's not realistic.

"Our best hope is to get bought out," he added. "That's the best solution for the ranchers. We would at least get something for all the years we put into it."

He supports legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in 2006 that would allow a multimillion dollar buyout of grazing permits from willing ranchers who run their cattle in or near the monument.

The concept has been endorsed by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

The BLM studies can be seen at www.mailtribune.com/grazingstudies.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.