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Overcoming Social and Scientific Challenges to Inform Management in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

In 2000, Klamath Bird Observatory incorporated, emerging from nearly 10 years of coordinated inventory and monitoring efforts in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California.  In that same year President Clinton issued a proclamation that established the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, protecting 52,000 acres referred to as “an ecological wonder” and “a biological crossroads—the interface of the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou ecoregions, in an area of unique geology, biology, climate, and topography.”  These lands are representative of the biodiversity for which the larger area we had been studying is widely recognized.  The proclamation called for management in the Monument that ensures continued ecological integrity for the area.  It was this ecological integrity that our research, using birds as indicators, was designed to measure.  In fact, we had collected a lot of data in the area of the Monument documenting the biodiversity of birds, a group of animals identified in the proclamation as one of the many “objects of biological interest” to be protected in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

In 2000, Klamath Bird Observatory’s non-advocacy, science-based model was new to the region and we were well-positioned to facilitate what was escalating into a controversial issue.  The Presidential Proclamation called for a livestock grazing impacts study, stating that, “should grazing be found incompatible with protecting the objects of biological interest, the Secretary [of Interior] shall retire the grazing allotments [within the Monument].”  This resulted in a tense atmosphere among stakeholders including the ranchers who had grazed livestock in the area for decades, an environmental community focused on reducing the negative impacts of grazing, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a government agency typically charged with multiple-use natural resource management but now tasked with coordinating a complicated scientific study and protecting an area for conservation purposes.

Soon after the proclamation was issued, Klamath Bird Observatory began working with all the stakeholders to design and implement a grazing effects study in the Monument.  We were faced with both social and scientific challenges that put our new non-advocacy, science-based model to the test.  At first, the environmental community voiced concerns about KBO working with the BLM on the study, showing their distrust of the agency.  Expressing similar skepticism, many of the ranchers were concerned that we were working with the non-government environmental community on aspects of the study.  All parties were concerned that individual partners or funding sources would introduce bias into our results.  In addition to these social issues, designing a grazing impacts study in the Monument represented a significant scientific challenge because the majority of the area had been grazed for many decades, leaving us with no ungrazed habitats to use as “controls” against which grazing effects could be compared.

We quickly realized that our non-advocacy, science-based model could be used to turn these challenges into opportunities for success.  The study design would require cooperation from all stakeholders; we would need to conduct extensive vegetation surveys to document a subtle gradient representing less grazed to more heavily grazed sites.  We took on a leading role in this aspect of the study, viewing its design and implementation as essential to effectively measuring the effects of grazing on the Monument’s objects of biological interest.  We also viewed collaboration on the study design as a way to unify both the agency and NGO partners involved in the broader grazing effects study.

Within this context we helped to facilitate a process whereby a team of agency, academic, and NGO scientists collaborated on a transparent set of study designs that were presented for scientific review as well as review by a Resource Advisory Committee representing the diverse stakeholder interests.  At a Resource Advisory Committee meeting it was agreed that this peer-reviewed and transparent study, and the peer-reviewed results, would produce an agreed upon body of science that would support the upcoming decisions on grazing that had been called for in the Presidential Proclamation.  This elevated the science above the social controversy and distrust, in recognition of the integrity of the scientific process.  The stage was set for a management decision to be informed by one of the most comprehensive grazing effects studies ever conducted in the western United States.

Many of the study results did indicate that maintaining the current grazing rate and conserving the ecological integrity required by the Monument’s objects of biological interest would prove to be a challenge for the Bureau of Land Management.  For example, our data suggested that reduced grazing would benefit long-distance migrant, foliage gleaning, and shrub-nesting birds in the Monument’s oak woodland habitats, meeting established bird conservation objectives.

During the time that the Monument was being created, and the study was being designed and implemented, a separate negotiation involving the government and the environmental and grazing communities was underway.  These groups were seeking legislation to facilitate third-party compensation for ranchers who would donate their grazing leases in the Monument, allowing their allotments to be permanently eliminated.  This financial compensation offered an alternative to the Presidential Proclamation that stated, “should grazing be found incompatible with protecting the objects of biological interest, the Secretary shall retire the grazing allotments.”  However, it was not until the study results were published that a compensation price point could be agreed upon.  The results made the retiring of the allotments more likely, given the Secretary’s obligation to meet the directives of the proclamation.

Our early involvement with the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument grazing study served as an excellent test of our non-advocacy, science-based model, and proved to be a true success story for Klamath Bird Observatory, for science, and for science-based bird conservation.  Our non-advocacy, science-based model served as a means for building bridges among adversaries, who were eventually able to collaborate as part of a transparent and effective scientific process.  Through our involvement we solidified many long-lasting partnerships with diverse collaborators including the Bureau of Land Management, Geos Institute (formally a local office of the World Wildlife Fund), Oregon State University, the US Geological Services Co-op Unit, and local landowners and ranchers.  Additionally, many acres of habitat in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument are no longer grazed by livestock, a change in management that is benefitting the ecological integrity of the Monument and many of the resident and migratory birds that depend on its oak woodland habitats.