Leaked Memo Suggests Shrinking Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

New details about a proposal to shrink the size and loosen protections for Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument are being greeted with anger and dismay by opponents.

Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is on the short list of wild lands that President Trump’s administration wants to shrink. New details about the recommendations by President Trump’s interior secretary surfaced Sunday in a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The memo was short on specifics. It suggested the monument’s boundaries, which President Obama had expanded in 2017, should be “revised through the use of appropriate authority … to reduce impacts on private lands and remove O&C Lands to allow sustained yield timber production.”

Conservation groups balked at such a change.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is considered  a land bridge, connecting three mountain ranges and fostering biodiversity. The monument is just under 114,000 acres.

“It’s a real important biological connectivity corridor to allow species to move back and forth so they don’t have to marry their cousins,” said Dave Willis, chair of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. “As bridge it has value to a lot more than just those 114,000 acres. It provides ecological benefits to ecoregions all around it.”

Willis, who has worked to preserve the sensitive area since 1983, called the report “sloppy and error-filled.”

“To have a slap-dash report like this be used as justification for reducing the monument boundaries or protections would be crazy. It would be outrageous,” Willis said.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was designated to protect biodiversity — the first national monument set aside with that sole purpose. It was first established as a national monument in 2000 by President Clinton.

“If protecting the objects of scientific interest is an important factor in the actions of President Trump, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and its boundaries will remain intact. That is what the science tells us,” said Jack Williams, a senior scientist with Trout Unlimited in Medford.

Williams said the monument’s expansion was meant to keep further help sensitive flora and fauna.

“Without these areas, we will lose protection for the snowpack that Jenny Creek badly needs to maintain cold water supplies for the redband trout and other native fishes in the creek,” Williams wrote in an email.

An overwhelming majority of public comments supported the national monuments overall, with 96 percent saying the designations should remain in place.

However, not everyone was pleased when the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was expanded. Timber industry groups had threatened to sue over the expansion, although they held off on that suit while this decision came through.

“Can an administration come in and change the meaning of a statute through the Antiquities Act? That’s the legal question, and our view is no,” said Travis Joseph, president of the American Forest Resource Council, in an earlier interview with EarthFix.

Joseph said it was not clear if the leaked document accurately reflects the findings and recommendations in the final report to the president. However, he said, reconsideration of monument’s expansion would be a positive step. 

Oregon Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said she and other state lawmakers are committed to fighting the proposals in the memo. She said the expansion helps protect biodiversity, especially as the climate changes.

“That this cursory review set in motion proposed changes that could fundamentally alter what we have is a travesty,” Marsh said.

Oregon’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, said in a joint statement that the monument was expanded through “an extensive public process.”

“This attack on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is an attack on our American tradition of protecting public lands that are open to all,”  Merkley said. “Using an unprecedented and legally dubious strategy, President Trump is threatening one of the most biodiverse places in America and ignoring the extensive public process that informed the expansion of the monument.

Conservation groups threatened to sue the administration if the memo is approved.

Eric Molvar, executive director with Western Watersheds Project, said the memo also threatens to expand natural resource extraction in National Monuments, including southern Oregon.

“If you prioritize logging and grazing and mining over protection, then what you get is a national monument that actually prioritizes the very threats that are going to get rid of the scientifically proven, crucial items for which the monument was designated in the first place.”

The memo also suggested scaling back the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, and the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll.