Congress must have voice in creating monument areas, Walden says

When it comes to creating new wilderness areas, the Obama administration needs to be reminded that the job is the responsibility of Congress, says U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

"Enough is enough," said the Republican from Hood River who represents Oregon's 2nd Congressional District.

"Enough is enough when they go to lock up our public lands without any public input," he told a group of about 75 people gathered on the Jackson County Courthouse steps in Medford late Monday morning. Several people held signs reading "A Monumental Mistake" and "Don't Tread on Me."

Walden was among 48 representatives and nine U.S. senators who signed a letter sent Friday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to withdraw Secretarial Order 3310 issued Dec. 23 which they fear would give the U.S. Bureau of Land Management the right to administratively create "de facto" wilderness by creating monuments.

"This 'Wildlands Initiative' allows his (Salazar's) agency — the BLM and others — to manage these lands and treat them as wilderness without any public involvement at all," Walden said, later adding, "You get de facto wilderness as a result. No input from the public."

He noted that a year ago a memo leaked from the Interior Department contained an administration "wish list" of 17 new national monuments, including the proposed 600,000 Siskiyou Crest National Monument in southwest Oregon and far northwestern California.

"If successful, it would lock up another 13 million acres of land without a bit of congressional approval or public involvement," Walden said. "This is wrong."

When similar monuments were created during the Clinton administration, Congress had to step in to ensure there was access to private holdings surrounded by monument land and that management plans were put into place, he said.

He specifically expressed concern over the proposed Siskiyou Crest monument.

"This designation would spread into California and lock up another 600,000 acres," he said. "How can the Obama administration do this, all without getting input from you or the elected representatives you send to Washington?

"The 1906 Antiquities Act does give the president authority to protect lands for archaeological purposes — that was why it was designed," he continued. "But it says it is supposed to be the smallest area compatible to proper care and management of the object to these reserves."

When the 1906 legislation was being debated, the issue was over whether the land amount to be a maximum 320 acres or 640 acres, he noted.

"Now they are just randomly using it to get around any public process to lock up any swath of land they want," he said.

But Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland which supports the Siskiyou Crest proposal, expressed concern that efforts by Walden and others ignores the "commonly held values" of the proposed monument area.

"The Siskiyou Crest is a spectacular landscape but we need to protect its pristine back country and promote active management where it's needed most," he said in an e-mail. "We are not wedded to any one mechanism to get that done.

"We agree that a healthy public process should precede public lands management decisions," he added. "Instead of limiting public involvement as he has proposed in the past, Walden should foster more open and transparent decisions."

— Paul Fattig

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