ASHLAND — Opponents to the proposed doubling of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument say their concerns about taking federal timberlands out of production, the loss of backwoods grazing and increased wildfire risks have been improperly left out of expansion discussions.
Though clearly in the minority of a packed Southern Oregon University ballroom cloaked in a sea of blue “Oregon is Monumental” T-shirts, opponents Friday questioned the science used to create the expansion footprint and the legality of adding Oregon and California Act lands into a monument.
Opponents also voiced disapproval that the stroke of a presidential pen under the federal Antiquities Act is the proper way to expand the monument.
“We have not yet had the chance to sit down and have a conversation and look at the science from both sides to see if we need expansion,” rancher Jeremy Kennedy said. “Let’s slow down and do this the right way, not with the Antiquities Act.”
But the majority of about 400 people who attended Friday afternoon’s public meeting voiced a need to push forward with the expansion that scientists studying the 16-year-old monument say is needed to shore up ecological protection in a unique region.
“The expansion is an excellent idea, not just for us but for the many generations that follow us,” Jim Fety testified.
The meeting was called by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., so he and U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor could gauge public sentiment for the expansion plan pitched by Merkley and fellow Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.
The senators have proposed expanding the monument by more than 66,500 acres inside a new, more than 100,000-acre footprint that stretches northwest past Dead Indian Memorial Road, west to Emigrant Lake, east into Klamath County and south into California near Iron Gate Reservoir.
The 90,328 acres proposed for expansion within Oregon includes 56,245 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, including Hyatt Lake and lands surrounding Howard Prairie Lake, as well as chunks of the upper watersheds of Jenny Creek tributaries whose lower reaches are now part of the monument.
The current monument covers about 66,000 acres within an 85,000-acre boundary inside Jackson County east of Ashland.
Like the roughly 19,000 acres of private land already inside the monument, the 34,095 acres of private land inside the proposed new boundary would remain private and not part of the monument.
Expansion has been pushed by some local conservationists and scientists studying the area as a way to account for full watersheds, protect Jenny Creek’s headwaters and include high-elevation public lands needed for the monument’s unique flora and fauna as they react to climate change.
Supporters hope the input will lead Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to urge President Obama to use the same powers under the Antiquities Act to expand the monument that President Bill Clinton used to create it in 2000.
Supporters claim that not doing so threatens the “spectacular biological diversity” and the rare plants, animals and other “objects of interest” cited in Clinton’s proclamation that created the monument.
The ecological argument for expansion is made via a 2011 study that since has been signed by 85 scientists in support.
Opponents such as Oregon Cattlemen’s Association President John O’Keefe suggested that pro-expansion science “could be a little cherry-picked,” while others, like rancher Ron Ruby, wondered why some private landowners were added to the new footprint while others were drawn out seemingly intentionally.
“What’s so special about this guy’s property, or this guy’s property? Do they have special attention because they’re not added to the monument?” Ruby said after commandeering a monument map and holding it to the crowd. “Scientists, speak up?”
Several landowners from within the proposed monument boundary spoke on both sides.
Wearing one of the “Oregon is Monumental” shirts purchased by a consortium of supporting groups, Vern Crawford said his 160 acres is within monument expansion and he supports it because he believes climate change will force flora and fauna to move upland to his property in search of livable habitat.
“We will welcome the animals and plants with open arms,” Crawford said.
Rancher Lee Bradshaw said not losing his grazing allotment on proposed monument lands is key to keeping his ranch viable.
“Without that our ranch would struggle, probably wouldn’t make it,” Bradshaw told Merkley. “If we lose our permit, where will we go?”
Merkley said that how grazing allotments are handled if the expansion goes through “deserves a lot of attention,” but he also said monument status “is one of the most flexible instruments in public policy” to address specific issues of what can or cannot occur within those boundaries.