Bears Ears could set precedent

Supporters of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument's recent expansion fear Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's recommendation to have Congress reduce the size of a new Utah national monument could be applied here.

In a report issued Monday, Zinke said some lands inside the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument deserve monument status, but the report also recommends that Congress look at whether some of its lands would be more appropriately designated as national recreation or conservation areas.

Slicing off chunks of Bureau of Land Management lands from the recently expanded Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and transferring those to designated recreation or conservation areas would threaten the native species and natural features that led to the monument's creation in 2000 and expansion in January, supporters say.

Zinke's review of the Cascade-Siskiyou will delve into whether the designations meet a size requirement under the federal Antiquities Act 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 113,013-acre monument inside a 137,500-acre footprint that now stretches from its original lands east of Ashland into Klamath County and Northern California is smaller than a scientific review recommends to ensure proper protections for what's there, particularly amid climate change.

"This monument's already been reduced in size," said Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and a longtime monument supporter. "It's too small already."

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, who opposed expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou, called Zinke's approach "a welcome sign."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who joined fellow Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley in pitching for the expansion, called Zinke's approach "an attack on this monument that sets a bad precedent and is an attack on all public lands.”

The Cascade-Siskiyou is one of 27 recently designated or expanded national monuments President Donald Trump ordered Zinke to review to determine whether those designations met conditions of the Antiquities Act, and to suggest any legislative or executive actions that would be applicable.

In doing so, he ordered the first report be on the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Zinke's report did not recommend specific areas or acreages Congress should consider changing.

Monument designation blocks mining and commercial logging but does not block public access to monument lands. However, it could lead to some changes in how those lands are accessed, such as decommissioned roads or fewer miles of roads open to vehicles. The rules don't apply to private lands within the monument footprint.

Spokesman Jim Whittington of the Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, which manages the local monument, declined to comment on the management differences between monuments and national recreation or conservation areas, saying all monument questions must be funneled through BLM's national press office email address.

BLM national press officials did not respond Monday for clarity on the different designations.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts, who opposed the Cascade-Siskiyou's expansion, called a review along these lines appropriate, but it remains independent of a lawsuit by the Association of O&C Counties claiming large swaths of the monument were illegally designated based on a 1940 DOI opinion that O&C Lands cannot be designated as monuments.

"I don't know how it will play out," Roberts said. "They'll review each one independently, and each monument is different."

Trump ordered the monument reviews at the behest of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other Utah elected officials who opposed the Bears Ears designation, which was approved by former President Obama in the same month as the Cascade-Siskiyou expansion.

"Oregon isn't Utah," Willis said. "We have the support of the governor, both senators, the two closest towns" and many others, he said.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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