Trump orders monument scrutiny

Supporters believe what they see as strong community acceptance for last fall's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument expansion, its scientific backing and its vetting through a string of public hearings will buoy it against scrutiny under a new President Donald Trump executive order.

Trump's executive order seeking to review what the administration called "government over-reach" in using the Antiquities Act of 1906 likely will lead to a review of the monument expansion, a review monument backers believe it should survive unscathed.

"The Antiquities Act gives the president the power to protect public land, said Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. "It doesn't give the president power to unprotect public land.

"Frankly, it's been a gift from past administrations," Willis said. "It would be very sad if that gift was taken away or diminished by this administration."

Opponents of the expansion welcomed Wednesday's executive order, but that won't get them to back off on federal lawsuits challenging expansion of monuments into O&C Act lands created by Congress for timber production.

"I think it's good for the administration to play an oversight role on the Antiquities Act," said President Travis Joseph of the American Forest Resource Council, which is part of one of the suits. "We remain focused on our pending litigation."

Signed Wednesday, the executive order requires new Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to consult with local governments and tribes while reviewing national monuments created under the Antiquities Act since January 1, 1996, as well as those with footprints greater than 100,000 acres.

The review will delve into whether the designations meet a size requirement that is the "smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected," according to the Department of the Interior.

The order also requires Zinke to look into monuments that were expanded without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders, but it does not define "adequate" or "relevant stakeholders." It does not rescind monument status at any location, nor does it alter current conservation rules.

The order requires Zinke to report to Trump within 120 days on any suggested legislative or executive action that would be applicable.

Department of the Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said the mechanics of the review were still being finalized.

The expansion has the support of the city councils and chambers of commerce in Ashland and Talent, as well as the Klamath Tribe and others, including Oregon's two U.S. Senators and Gov. Kate Brown. It was opposed by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Both sides point to heavily attended public hearings in their favor.

Eighty-five scientists signed a letter supporting a study that showed monument expansion was necessary to protect its biological uniqueness against climate change and for continuity because monument boundaries did not take into account full drainages.

Opponents, however, said the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the monument, did not have direct input in the expansion, and they have a stable of landowners, groups and politicians in their camp.

The monument expansion, and the Antiquities Act in general, were already the subject of federal reviews.

Two federal lawsuits are challenging whether the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was improperly expanded into O&C Act lands, based on a 1940 internal DOI review that concluded O&C Act lands cannot be rolled into monument status. 

Executive Director Rocky McVay of the Association of O&C Counties, which is suing the government to block expansion, said, "I don't think this will have any impact with us moving forward with that."

The House Natural Resources Committee has an oversight hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to look into possible "over-reach" of the Antiquities Act by past administrations, according to the committee.

Representatives from Eugene-Based Murphy Co., which owns about 2,000 acres within the monument's new footprint, plans to send someone to testify, said Joseph, who said the AFRC plans to offer written testimony in that hearing.

When the original 66,000 acres of monument were designated under the Antiquities Act by President Bill Clinton to protect what he called their "spectacular biological diversity" in 2000, O&C lands were included in that proclamation. However, the designation was not challenged as to whether the Antiquities Act could be used to trump the O&C Lands Act.

Last fall outgoing President Barack Obama expanded the monument to 113,013 acres within a footprint that covers about 137,500 acres and expands beyond southeastern Jackson County into Klamath County and Northern California.

Private lands inside that footprint remain private and are not subject to monument rules, which ban commercial timber harvest but would allow well vetted noncommercial cutting. The expansion does not block public access to the public lands within its boundaries, but it could lead to some changes in how those lands are accessed.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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