One day, the wild land between Ashland and Cave Junction — extending north to Applegate and south to Happy Camp, Calif. — could be preserved as the Siskiyou Crest National Monument.
That's the goal of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, which is launching its monument campaign this month.
"The Siskiyou Crest is an incredibly unique natural feature that we have right here in our own backyard," said Laurel Sutherlin, KS Wild's outreach director.
The region's biodiversity, unusual geology, habitat connectivity and importance in the light of climate change make it valuable to conserve, he said.
The recently passed federal wilderness bill — which protects more than 2 million acres in nine states, including the Soda Mountain Wilderness southeast of Ashland — shows the new administration's willingness to protect land, Sutherlin said. But Oregon still lags behind other states, he said, with just 4 percent of its land designated as wilderness, the highest level of land preservation.
"We see a major deficit of protected land in Oregon," Sutherlin said. "It's all sort of lining up, the politics and the science, to make this the right time to move this forward."
Residents can learn more about the campaign and KS Wild's work at the Klamath-Siskiyou Revue "Get to Know Your Bioregion" Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Ashland Community Center.
Along with wine and appetizers, KS Wild staff will present a slideshow highlighting recent successes and current threats, and they will let people know how to get involved in upcoming campaigns, hikes and volunteer opportunities.
'A treasure trove'
The Siskiyou Crest is a hotspot of plant and animal biodiversity, Sutherlin said.
Many plant species are endemic to the region (found nowhere else in the world), such as the Siskiyou mariposa lily and the Yreka phlox, to name a few.
"The wildflowers are just too abundant to list," Sutherlin said. "It's just a treasure trove of rare wildflowers and conifers."
The Brewer's spruce, a holdover from the last ice age, is found only in the Klamath-Siskiyou region, said Dominick DellaSala of the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science and Policy.
Other species, such as Alaska yellow cedar and Engelmann spruce, generally grow farther north, but can be found here, he said.
The Siskiyou Mountain salamander lives only in the region's mountains, and "the Siskiyou Crest stands at the headwaters of some of the most important salmon-bearing streams left," Sutherlin said.
Other animals, such as the spotted owl and the Pacific fisher, depend on the crest for habitat, DellaSala said, and it's possible that wolverines could be roaming at higher elevations.
With its unusual east-to-west orientation, the crest also provides valuable habitat connectivity, serving as a "land bridge" between the Marble Mountain Wilderness in California, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness near Cave Junction and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument southeast of Ashland, Sutherlin said.
"It's really a way for species to migrate and disperse between the Cascades and the Coast Range," said Joseph Vaile, KS Wild's campaign director. "It's also a really cool place to hang out."
The region provides a multitude of recreational opportunities, he said, with several mountain peaks, the Pacific Crest Trail, and spots for backpacking and snowshoeing.
Preserving the Siskiyou Crest is especially important in light of climate change, DellaSala said.
As temperatures rise, more species will move north and to higher elevations, and the crest provides needed connectivity, he said.
A landscape fragmented by roads and logging impairs animals' ability to move to cooler regions, and also affects water quality, he said.
Climate change will bring more frequent droughts, warmer summers, reduced snowpack and more rain on snow events that cause flooding — all of which will affect Ashland directly, since the city's water comes from the crest's watershed, he said.
"I don't want to give the impression that any one region is going to save the world," DellaSala said. "If we're going to help wildlife and our own species get through this climate change storm, we need to protect what little regions we have left, including the Siskiyou Crest."
Protecting the land
The proposed monument includes some already-preserved land, such as the Oregon Caves National Monument and the Red Buttes Wilderness, but most of the area has very little protection, Sutherlin said.
Parts of the region have been subjected to logging, roads, invasive species, grazing and off-road vehicle use, he added.
"There are some very pristine areas in the Siskiyou Crest, and there are some areas that need restoration," Vaile said. "It's not just a protection campaign. It's also a restoration campaign." Designation as a monument would allow for such management.
Congress can establish monuments through legislation, and the president can also proclaim "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments under the Antiquities Act. President Clinton used this authority to create the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in 2000.
"In this case, it's a slam dunk on making a biological argument," DellaSala said. "It's whether or not the administration is warmed up to the idea of national monuments. That's why I think it's great they're starting early."
Making it a climate change argument may help, he said, as global warming and energy issues seem to be resonating with the Obama administration.
The first step in the campaign is education, getting people informed and interested, Vaile said. It also involves conversations with those who have a stake in the land to see how such a designation would affect them, he said.
"We're hoping to gain a lot more partners in this," Vaile said. "We're hoping that we can get people out there and get them excited. And we're hoping this is something we can see happen in a couple years."
Interested residents can attend the presentation on Thursday, Sutherlin said, and they can sign up through KS Wild's Web site, www.kswild.org, to receive e-mail alerts and newsletters informing them of upcoming hikes and ways to get involved as the campaign develops.
In the beginning, the campaign entails making people aware of the land's significance and informing Oregon representatives of the desire to protect it, Sutherlin said.
"We want to build that public momentum to show them that it's worth protecting," he said. "You have diversity on many different scales and when you combine it with a very low level of protection, you're just begging for something like this."
Reach Kira Rubenthaler at 482-3456 ext. 225 or email@example.com.