Ranchers and environmentalists who have battled for 20 years over grazing in the West told members of Oregon's congressional delegation Aug. 10 they can support a bill to create the nation's first cattle-free wilderness. Key to the bill, being passed in the rush to adjourn Congress this fall, is working out final land exchanges involving five ranches with private holdings high on Steens Mountain in the vast desert of southeastern Oregon. Tribal Chairwoman Wanda Johnson said the tribe would like to see language in the bill assuring that Indians would be able to gather roots and berries and visit sacred sites. Fearful that President Clinton will declare Steens Mountain one of a new string of national monuments designed to protect the environment, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., introduced a bill that would create the 143,000-acre Steens Mountain Wilderness and a 500,000-acre Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. Walden noted a presidential declaration would not create any cattle-free wilderness or prevent private landowners from someday selling their 250 parcels for resort development. Environmentalists support the trades - eight acres of public land for every acre of private land given up - because they would make possible the nation's first cattle-free wilderness.
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