SALEM, Ore. (AP) — After touring the “unique” Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and speaking to ranchers, loggers and environmentalists, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must next make a recommendation on whether it should be abolished or resized.
It’s going to require a lot of study, Zinke indicated, given that the monument was created — and expanded by former President Barack Obama— to protect biodiversity in an area where three mountain ranges converge, creating diverse habitats for species that would normally be living apart.
“Beautiful country, no doubt,” Zinke said at a news conference Saturday next to a lake rimmed by evergreens. “There’s areas that are being harvested, and harvested well. On the trail I saw horseback, and the resident artisan and the people that are incredibly passionate about this monument.”
Zinke was ordered by President Donald Trump to review 27 national monuments and report by Aug. 24. Since June 12, Zinke has recommended that the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be downsized, and that no changes be made to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and the Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington.
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“This site is unique among the 27 sites I’m reviewing,” Zinke said after hiking in the monument in southern Oregon, which laps over into Northern California.
He said he wants to find out how the boundaries of the 112,000-acre (45,730-hectare) monument were made, explaining that it relates to the language of the Antiquities Act of 1906. It authorized a president to declare land controlled by the federal government a monument but limits the size “to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Zinke said he also wants to protect local traditions and “make sure the monument doesn’t have unintended consequences.”
He pointed out that while private land is inside the expanded monument, the government’s management plans pertain only to those federal lands inside it.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also toured the monument on foot and horseback, and met with Zinke to try to persuade him to leave it untouched.
“It’s not only an Oregon treasure; it’s a national treasure,” Brown told a separate press conference.
Among monument supporters are the mayors and city councils of Ashland and Talent, the two closest towns, who cited its “economic and ecological benefits.”
Among those opposing is the Association of O&C Counties, which represents counties in western Oregon that host vast swaths of timberlands once privately owned as part of a grant in exchange for construction of a railroad in the late 1800s, but that were returned to federal ownership in 1916.
Douglas County Commissioner and AOCC President Tim Freeman attended a meeting with Zinke, where inclusion of over 40,000 acres of O&C lands in the monument expansion was discussed. Freeman has previously called the expansion illegal because it prohibits timber production on 17,000 acres of Western Oregon O&C lands under current plans, and on an additional 18,500 acres under future plans. The AOCC is fighting the expansion in federal court.
The loss of O&C timber revenue will impact counties’ abilities “to keep basic services at acceptable levels,” Freeman said in a statement Monday. Those counties are already struggling financially.
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is situated where the Klamath, Siskiyou, and Cascade mountain ranges converge, creating a unique mixing of diverse habitats that are home to species that co-exist there but would normally live in separate ecoregions. Created by President Bill Clinton in 2000, it is the first monument set aside solely for the preservation of biodiversity. Species that live there include pygmy nuthatches, kangaroo rats, rough-skinned newts and northern spotted owls, according to a monument pamphlet.
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