National monument plan final

Eight years after the creation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has established a final management plan for the 52,947-acre area.

The decision announced Thursday spells out how the agency plans to manage the monument created in 2000, the first-ever monument in the nation established for its rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Included in the 123-page document are plans to use thinning and prescribed fire treatments on 5,465 acres in old-growth areas and to remove vegetation nearer populated areas to reduce wildfire hazards.

"The thinning would be primarily young stands," said Howard Hunter, assistant monument manager. "Most of these are over-dense stands from old (tree) plantations. If we don't do something, we could have severe mortality from insect and disease."

The monument, whose distinct features include Pilot Rock and Soda Mountain, is in the mountains east of Ashland where the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains intersect.

When the proposed management plan was released early in 2005, the agency received some 13,000 comment letters, including a dozen administrative protests.

The final decision also calls for decommissioning 53 miles of roads and closing another 21 miles.

"Decommissioning puts roads to bed," Hunter said. "In some places, that may mean doing very little. There may be trees growing in the road. But decommissioning means the road is going away. Closing a road means putting up a barricade, not allowing access to motorized vehicles."

The management plan also creates a process for determining compatibility of livestock grazing with "protecting the objects of biological interest" as required by the monument declaration, he said. However, a decision on the future of grazing in the monument won't be made until this coming winter, he added.

"There is a lot in the plan that is very specific," he said. "For instance, it allows snowmobiling but only on existing roads in the northern areas."

Noting the monument has the highest percentage of private land of any BLM monument &

islands of private lands within the boundaries of the monument &

Hunter said the agency will not deprive landowners of access to their property.

In some cases, that may entail a road being built to provide access, he said.

"We will not deny access to private property," he said.

While noting there are some "good things" about the decision, Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council which seeks to create a wilderness area within the monument, feels the agency didn't pay enough heed to the public comments or to an administrative protest by two dozen environmental groups when the 2005 proposed decision was released.

"Instead of listening to scientists and thousands and thousands of citizens who painstakingly asked BLM all during the planning process to live up to the monument's protection mandate, the BLM has delivered only half a protection loaf," he said.

"The BLM is playing fast and loose with public process &

and the law. Sadly for all, a judge will likely have to instruct BLM to take the monument's protection mandate seriously," he added.

Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist who is executive director of programs for the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science Policy, agreed.

He said his concern is that the practice of cattle grazing will only be modified and not removed as environmentalists urge, that not enough roads are being closed or decommissioned and that big trees may not be protected from logging. However, he agreed that some thinning is needed in the monument.

"The BLM has shown that the monument &

our nation's first monument to biodiversity &

is protected on paper alone because the agency cannot divest itself from a resource extraction agenda that has historically degraded these lands and caused ecological and social disruptions," he said.

But officials say the plan is for a 10-year time frame, and that many site-specific decisions will include opportunities for more public input.

"In many ways, this is just the beginning of public involvement in the monument," Hunter said.

Copies of the decision are available at the BLM's Medford District office at 3040 Biddle Road in Medford or online at /or/districts/medford/index.php.

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