One hot spot for grazing retirements is the Upper Deschutes area of south-central Oregon, where ranchers have been butting heads with a burgeoning population of newcomers, prodding the Bureau of Land Management to move cows off the land.
Private development is skyrocketing in the area: The town of
Redmond is expected to grow from 16,000 people to 80,000 in the
next 15 years. Ranchers face open gates and cattle-harassing dogs,
while some of the area’s new residents have little patience
for the occasional cow roaming the neighborhood or the golf course.
"My staff is spending increasingly large amounts of time
dealing with that kind of thing," says the BLM’s Robert
Towne, who is overseeing a new management plan for the 400,000-acre
Upper Deschutes Area, part of the Prineville District.
"That’s not really where we want to spend people’s
hard-earned (tax) dollars."
As a result, the agency has
proposed new rules for the district, which encompasses about 125
grazing allotments. Heeding the advice of a citizens’
committee, BLM managers have developed a "grazing matrix" that
assigns values to grazing lands. Some are tagged as having high
grazing value; others as having high conservation value or big
recreational conflicts. If a grazing permit overlaps with one of
the latter, the permittee can ask the BLM to retire the allotment.
While the new policy — the first of its kind
— will make it easier for ranchers and conservation groups to
cut buyout deals, that’s more of a side benefit than an
intended goal, says Teal Purrington, a BLM range management
specialist: "We do not offer them any money, but if they find other
ways to make money, that’s up to them."
eager to pony up some cash is the Oregon Natural Desert
Association. The group recently bought a grazing permit in the
Badlands area that it will relinquish to the BLM, which has agreed
to retire grazing on the 18,000 acres covered by the permit. So
far, that rancher is the only one to knock on the conservation
group’s door. But Executive Director Bill Marlett expects a
wave of interest when the new policy for the Upper Deschutes
receives final approval — likely in September.
Marlett also expects the innovations of the Prineville District to
spread. "I think it’ll snowball," he says. "There’s a
lot of private funds out there available for this effort. But
unless these roadblocks are removed, that money is just going to be