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Giving up grazing

Mail Tribune

APPLEGATE — For more than half a century, the Krouse family has been running its cattle each spring into the mountains ringing the Applegate Valley to graze on open range.

Shortly after June 1, the Krouses would begin the cattle drive to the alpine meadows on the southeast side of Grayback Mountain, which rises to 7,000 feet elevation south of their ranch.

"We'd always drive them up, leaving bright and early Sunday morning," recalled third-generation rancher Phil Krouse, 65. "We'd mainly walk in the early days. It was 20 miles. If the cows could walk it, so could we. But increased traffic has precluded that. Now we truck 'em."

"I'm the third generation on the range up there now," he added. "My son John is the fourth and my grandsons — I've got three — are the fifth. It's hard to be the guy that gives it up."

Krouse has agreed to a proposed $265,500 buyout of his family's historic Big Grayback grazing allotment of 19,703 acres in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. That agreement, pending the approval of Uncle Sam, also would include the family's Billy Mountain grazing allotment of 4,758 acres on U.S. Bureau of Land Management forestland immediately north of the ranch.

Reached after a lengthy negotiation with the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Andy Kerr, an adviser for the group, the proposal also calls for the 480-acre Oregon Caves National Monument to be expanded by 3,410 acres to protect its water source and increase tourism in the area.

Under the terms of the family's historic grazing lease, Krouse can run 70 head of cattle on the Big Grayback allotment from June 1 through the fall. The lower elevation Billy Mountain allotment allows him to graze 70 head of cattle from April 16 to June 30.

Environmental activists and others say that cattle grazing on public lands fouls watersheds, causes erosion and destroys habitat, albeit it's a view that many ranchers have discounted.

"This is the ecological right thing to do," Kerr said. "But it's also fiscally prudent, economically rational, socially just and politically pragmatic."

The point, he said, is that cattle grazing on public lands is facing increasing opposition in the Pacific Northwest.

"Phil faces an uncertain future in terms of potential additional restrictions on the amount of grazing allowed for his cattle on those public lands," Kerr said. "This is a socially just solution to help him make that transition."

However, the buyout as well as the land transfer between the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Park Service would require an act of Congress. A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, whose 4th Congressional District would include a portion of the allotments, said his focus has been on pushing forward the one-year extension of county timber payments and he hasn't had an opportunity yet to closely examine the proposal.

"It's up to Congress," said John Raby, natural resource staff officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest who has worked with Krouse on the Big Grayback allotment.

"Technically, once a permittee relinquishes a grazing permit, it reverts back to the Forest Service which has the option of reissuing it," he said. "But that would also depend on the nature of the legislation."

The agency is currently working on a new management plan for the Big Grayback allotment which would address sensitive biological areas, he said.

"Bigelow Lakes is a botanical area identified under the forest plan as being unique for a variety of plant species," Raby said, noting that protecting that area could entail fencing. The cheapest with barbed wire and metal post would be about $8,000 a mile, he added.

The cost of fencing around the lakes would be fiscally impossible for him, Krouse said.

"They have estimated it would cost $50,000 — I can't do that," he said.

"It's only right that rancher gets fairly compensated," said Lesley Adams, outreach coordinator for the wildlands center. "Phil's family has been grazing this land since 1937. He should be compensated for his family's investment in the Applegate."

She sees the proposal as a winning combination for both Krouse and the environment.

"Society is changing," she said. "People now realize that places like Big Grayback is not an appropriate place to graze cattle."

A self-described curmudgeon known for speaking his mind, Krouse periodically has been at odds with the environmental community, including his recent plans to build a gravel quarry on his property.

The college-educated rancher turned to Shakespeare's "The Tempest" when asked about working with Kerr, whose statewide reputation as an environmental activist has long drawn the ire of the timber and cattle industries.

"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows," Krouse said.

The point, he said, is that farming and ranching are becoming more difficult as the area's population increases.

"It's a tough thing to give up but times change," he said. "In my grandfather's time, farming and ranching was something society looked up to. But that's not true anymore. Times change."

Reared in the Applegate Valley, he was an exchange student to England and Wales in the International Farm Youth Exchange Program in 1964, spending six months living with farm families in those countries.

After studying at Oregon State University, he was drafted into the Army and sent to South Vietnam, where the buck sergeant received a Bronze star medal for valor in 1968. He worked in Oregon's logging woods for a few years, then went back to OSU to earn a degree in physical education. He taught for seven years before returning to work the ranch his grandparents started in the early 1920s. His parents, Francis and Myrtle Krouse, were well-known throughout the region in agricultural circles. His father served on numerous public boards, including the Jackson County Fair Board.

"My dad farmed this place after he graduated from Applegate High School around 1924," said Phil Krouse, whose only sibling, Francis A. Krouse II, died two years ago. "They milked 30 cows by hand."

The problem, he reiterated, is that farming is not the same business it was when his parents and grandparents ran the ranch.

"Gas was two bits a gallon," he said. "Yet we are still getting the same damn thing for our cattle."

His family started with 160 acres, expanding their holdings over the years. Today the family has 276 acres overlooking the Applegate River.

After a cow disease running rampant in the region devastated their dairy herd, the Krouses turned to the open range in 1937.

"When my grandad started here, it was an agriculture society," Krouse said. "I'll bet 98 percent of the people back then did farming. Now, three or four generations later, maybe 2 percent of the people farm. And 98 percent don't understand where their food comes from.

"I would hate to see this country not be able to feed its people," he said.

Even if the proposal is approved by Congress, Krouse, who has already planted a vineyard on the ranch in an attempt to diversify, said he would probably still keep cattle there.

"The grazing is hard to give up," he said. "But it's either try to get this done now and get some compensation for it, or just have to give it up with nothing. The situation is not going to get better. That's sad to me."

More information on the proposal is available at www.kswild.org/caves.


Craig Ackerman is all for expanding the size of the 480-acre Oregon Caves National Monument by some 3,400 acres.

In fact, the National Park Service called for increasing its acreage by that amount in the monument's 1998 general management plan update, observed Ackerman, superintendent of the monument for the past 16 years.

"That's still the official position of the park service," he said during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was attending a conference.

"We would like to see it expanded for a variety of reasons," he added. "It would help provide protection to the watershed, increase public opportunities, bring more tourism to the area."

But the over-riding reason is that it would allow the agency to protect the unique resource that is the caves and its environs, he said.

"That's almost impossible to manage with 480 acres," he said, noting that Cave Creek, which flows through the caves originates in Bigelow Lakes which is beyond the monument's border.

The stream, known as the River Styx when it flows underground in the caves, has been cited by scientists as one of the natural forces which helped create the caverns.

"A lot of activities that impact our watershed, like grazing and logging, happens beyond our borders now," Ackerman said. "It's very difficult to manage to protect our natural resource with only 480 acres."

Moreover, expanding the monument would quite literally put it on the map, he said.

"One of our division chiefs says it would finally be big enough so it's no longer just as dot on the highway map," Ackerman said, noting the monument some 20 miles east of Cave Junction is currently the agency's second smallest natural area in the nation.

"We feel a boundary adjustment will increase recreation opportunities," he said. "We would have hiking trails, horse-back riding and other attractions like visiting unique botanical sites and old-growth forests that would cause people to increase their stay. They would spend more money in the Illinois Valley."

The fact the expanded area would be part of the national park system carries a prestige that would attract tourists, he says.

"For some reason, visitors love to be inside a park," he added.

If the monument is expanded, the agency prefers it be done legislatively instead of administratively because it would allow for public input, he said.

In its 1998 general management plan, which reviewed the adequacy of the boundary as required by Congress, it concluded that studies indicated that grazing and logging on adjacent forest land could be contributing to bacteria and soil sediments in the caves via Cave Creek. Logging has occurred within a half mile of the current monument.

But that expansion proposal is not the first for the monument which was originally 2,560 acres when created in 1909. President William H. Taft downsized it in 1911 by proclamation to a 480-acre monument.

In 1939, the monument staff recommended it be expanded by 2,400 acres for much the same reasons the expansion is being recommended today. A decade later, the expansion recommended was for more than 4,500 acres. The 1949 expansion was called for by the Oregon Caves Boundary Study Committee which included members of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

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

Phil Krouse, whose family has been grazing cows since 1937, is willing to sell his grazing rights on federal forestland as part of a proposal that also would expand the Oregon Caves National Monument.