Monument review a moving target

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's recommendation to scale back Utah's Bears Ears National Monument may pose less of a threat to Southern Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument than supporters fear.

For one thing, Bears Ears is far larger — 1.35 million acres compared with a little over 100,000 in the Cascade-Siskiyou. Carving out some portion of the larger monument for lesser protections would be much easier to do, and could probably be accomplished with less effect on the monument as a whole.

For another, Bears Ears was created specifically to protect ancient Native American archeological sites and artifacts, which are in fixed locations. The Cascade-Siskiyou designation in 2000 and the expansion ordered early this year by President Barack Obama were intended to protect animal and plant habitats that shift across the landscape, and to connect species habitats that had been separated by non-monument land.

Zinke's rationale for recommending changes to Bears Ears is based on language in the Antiquities Act requiring that monuments be the "smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected." That's one thing when the objects are archeological artifacts, and quite another when the "objects" are plant and animal species that don't stay in one place.

Furthermore, the Cascade-Siskiyou expansion was smaller than scientists had recommended, so it has already been scaled down.

Finally, President Donald Trump's reason for ordering the review of 27 monument designations or expansions was based at least in part on opposition to those designations from state and local officials. In Utah, the governor and the state's congressional delegation, along with many local officials, opposed the monument and worked to block it.

The Cascade-Siskiyou Monument, by contrast, enjoys the support of Gov. Kate Brown, both of Oregon's U.S. senators, city councils and chambers of commerce in Ashland and Talent and many local residents. Jackson County commissioners also opposed the expansion, and are backing a lawsuit asserting that O&C timberlands cannot be included in monuments.

Trump's order to Zinke to review monument designations was viewed with alarm by supporters of protecting public land from mining and other disruptive activity, and there is doubt among legal experts that the president has the power to single-handedly undo a monument designation. In that respect, Zinke's proposal to ask Congress to modify management rules for portions of Bears Ears might have a better outcome than leaving it up to the White House.

Still, this administration is determined to undo what previous presidents put in place. The future of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is far from assured.

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