Public Land

With an Expanded National Monument, Oregon's Debate over Public Lands Continues

A late-breaking executive order from President Obama nearly doubles Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Could the 45th President roll that back?

By Elise Herron January 13, 2017

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The 44th President definitely made his last days in office count.

Since Barack Obama took office in 2008, he's named or expanded 34 new national monuments through the executive power afforded him by the 1906 Antiquities Act (by far a record for a US president). Five of those national monuments were named on Thursday, January 12, and one—a 48,000-acre expansion of the existing Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument—adds Oregon to Obama's list

Just north of the Oregon-California border, the previously 65,000-acre monument lies at the intersection of the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Klamath mountain ranges. The Cascade-Siskiyou monument was established in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton in recognition of the area's incredible biodiversity, which ranges from mixed conifer forests to high desert and grasslands. Proponents of the expansion (which annexes property to the east, west, and south the current monument) say it will enhance protections for the more than 200 bird species that reside here, as well as elk, river otters, black bears, bobcats, and the rare Oregon spotted frog.

As long-time advocates of the expansion, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden—who publicly urged the President to expand the monument last August, after months of gathering input from Oregonians—were quick to release their own statements of support

Jeanine Moy, outreach director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, tells Portland Monthly she thinks Obama's move is in line with what most Oregonians want. “Everyone’s all abuzz here,” she says. “I think ultimately when we talk about what this means for Oregon, it’s that more people will have a connection to, and understanding of, the ecological diversity in their backyard.”

Others, like the Oregon's Cattlemen's Association—as reported on Thursday by Oregon Public Broadcasting—are vocally opposed. "This is a huge hit for our members, our communities, and our state,” said association executive director Jerome Rosa, as quoted by OPB. Republican Congressman Greg Walden filed his own statement, expressing disappointment with a decision he called hasty and ill-advised. “I will work with the Trump Administration to do what we can to roll back this midnight expansion,” Walden declared in the statement

Debate over public land use in Oregon is far from new. Last year, the debate boiled over into armed conflict at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge some 300 miles away, where a ragtag group of militiamen and others occupied the refuge by force. That group was later acquitted by an Oregon jury, in a decision that caught the entire nation by surprise (including the defendants). A reversal of Obama's national monuments designations, as courted by Rep. Walden, would also be a shocker; not only unprecedented, but also tricky. According to a legal scholar consulted by National Geographic, any attempt by President-Elect Trump to revoke the designations would most likely be blocked in court. 

Meanwhile, Obama's record monument-making streak may yet continue—after all, he's still got a whole week left in office. Might we suggest next: Eastern Oregon's Owyhees?

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