Timber group files suit against monument expansion

A timber-industry group has joined the growing list of entities asking the federal courts to invalidate last fall's near-doubling of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

The American Forest Resource Council filed suit Friday in federal court claiming President Barack Obama illegally used the Antiquities Act to add thousands of acres of O&C Act lands in the monument expansion, contradicting a 1940 Department of the Interior legal opinion stating O&C lands can't be pulled from production.

The land was part of the original O&C Act lands that were set aside by Congress for sustained timber production as managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The 1940 internal governmental review conducted during a proposed expansion of the Oregon Caves National Monument concluded the Antiquities Act can't trump the O&C Act.

It is the third federal suit filed since Feb. 3 seeking to nullify the expansion of the monument east of Ashland by 47,624 acres. Including the expansion, the monument now includes 113,013 acres of federal lands within a footprint that covers about 137,500 acres in southeastern Jackson County, Klamath County and Northern California.

Nearly identical lawsuits were filed Feb. 13 by the Oregon Association of O&C Counties and Feb. 17 by the Murphy Co., which owns about 2,000 acres within the monument footprint.

AFRC President Travis Joseph said the council opted not to join one of the existing lawsuits because his council represents the timber industry, which seeks to ensure those lands remain available to provide logs to local mills.

Jackson County and other counties within the O&C association are suing primarily to seek cash payments in lieu of taxes that are tied directly to O&C land timber sales, Joseph said.

Like the Oregon Association of O&C Counties suit, AFRC filed its suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Joseph said that was done because Obama signed the executive order creating the expansion there, and because the monument now falls in two states with two different district courts.

The Murphy Co. suit was filed in federal court in Medford. 

Murphy's lands and other private lands within the monument footprint remain private and are not subject to monument rules, which ban commercial timber harvest but would allow well vetted noncommercial cutting. Murphy's suit, however, claims its lands will lose significant value if the expansion is not overturned.

When President Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act to create the monument in 2000, 40,155 acres of previously designated O&C lands were included. However, that designation was not challenged with the use of the 1940 legal opinion.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who supported the expansion, in October estimated that the expansion boundaries included 53,454 acres of former O&C lands. BLM hopes as early as Wednesday to pinpoint the exact number of new O&C lands added to the monument by the expansion, BLM spokesman Jim Whittington said.

The Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and other monument supporters have filed briefs in the first two cases seeking to join in defense of the monument expansion. They argue that they can't rely on BLM nor the Trump administration to defend their interests in keeping the expansion intact.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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