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Grazing proposal a step forward

The plan is fair and workable, which gives it a fighting chance

A proposal that would pay ranchers to give up grazing rights in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is far from a done deal, but it's a big step down the road toward removing cows from the protected area. Beyond that, it's a big step toward finding some common ground in that environmental battle zone.

Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith announced Thursday that a compromise had been reached in the standoff over cattle grazing in the monument area. The deal would pay the ranchers a set amount based on the number of head they graze on the leased lands.

There is a long way to go before the proposal becomes law &

8212; it hasn't even been formally introduced yet &

8212; but Smith's draft legislation also is a sign of how far the opposing parties have come since the monument was created in 2000.

That declaration by President Bill Clinton was roundly denounced at the time by ranchers and conservatives of all stripes. It is still clearly a bone in their craw, but many now recognize the best option is to find a way for the ranchers to avoid being put out of business or forced to file bankruptcy.

That this is a compromise is evident in the reactions from both sides. Environmentalists are upset that ranchers will be paid to stop using public lands they don't own. Opponents grumble that it's just a way to thin the number of ranchers and that, no matter how you slice it, it's another retreat from a traditional way of life. But grumbles aside, the combatants came up with a deal that is workable and fair. Allowing cattle to graze in an area that was set aside because of its rich diversity of plant and animal life just didn't make sense. But ranchers have used the area for a century, and simply sending them packing was not a palatable option. Smith continues to show that he is willing to work across party lines and with nontraditional allies to reach solutions that benefit the state. We also hope his traditional allies, including fellow Republican Greg Walden, the 2nd District's congressman, will see the wisdom in moving past an issue that promises to drag on for years if a compromise is not reached.

Here's an easy callWhile we're on the topic of finding solutions that appeal across party lines, we've got a winner near the Southern Oregon Coast.

The Copper Salmon Wilderness proposal would protect 12,000 acres of forests and an important stretch of spawning habitat along the North Fork of the Elk River. It is an unspoiled, remote region that lives up to the qualities sought in a wilderness.

And it's a proposal endorsed by just about everyone who's come in contact with it. Among its biggest boosters is the Port Orford/North Curry County Chamber of Commerce, which touts the economic boost provided by the Elk River's renowned salmon fishing. The idea has been endorsed by such unlikely bedfellows as Trout Unlimited, The Berkeley Conservation Institute, the Curry County Board of Commissioners, the Izaak Walton League and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

The remote river drainage would be adjacent to the existing 17,000-acre Grassy Knob Wilderness, helping to create a significant area of undisturbed wild lands. This seems like a no-brainer: It's good for business, recreation and the environment. Congress and the Bush administration can push forward to protect this area knowing they have a winner on their hands.