Gov. Kate Brown made her debut visit to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Sunday before meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to “relay her strong support for the expanded monument.”
However, the one-hour meeting left Brown with no indication of what Zinke’s recommendation might be to President Trump in regard to the monument’s designation and current boundaries.
“I urged [Zinke] and the federal administration to not backtrack on the monument and to not turn their backs on progress we have already made and look forward to working with the administration collaboratively as we seek to protect what we have created in Oregon,” Brown said Sunday afternoon during a brief news conference at the Courtyard Marriott in Medford.
Only months after President Obama authorized the expansion of the monument from 66,000 acres to 113,013 acres, Trump issued an executive order for Zinke to review all monuments over 100,000 acres that have been designated or expanded since Jan. 1, 1996, under the Antiquities Act.
Zinke was tasked with evaluating whether the monuments were the smallest necessary to protect the land or objects they are designed to protect, whether they are appropriately classified as of historic or scientific interest, and whether the federal government can properly manage those lands with the resources available, to name a few.
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, originally established in 2000 under President Bill Clinton, is located primarily in southeastern Jackson County but stretches west into Klamath County and south into California and is among the 27 monuments nationwide subject to review.
Brown took a horseback ride through the national monument Sunday morning with Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, to experience firsthand the monument’s “incredible views,” flora and fauna.
Later that afternoon, she met with Zinke to remind him that the expansion was created after an extensive public process and was based on scientific and evidence-based practices with the intent of protecting the biodiversity and connectivity of the region.
Zinke spent the weekend touring the area and meeting with members of the federal Bureau of Land Management, members of a snowmobile users group and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, and others, including Brown.
Brown said Zinke expressed his desire to work collaboratively with the state of Oregon and “take a holistic approach in terms of the expanded monument designation.”
“(Zinke) is a westerner,” Brown said of the former congressman from Montana. “He understands the importance of public lands and how these are a critical part of who we are. ... And that it’s really important for us to keep these lands the way they are and preserve them for future generations.”
Protesters from both sides congregated Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of the local BLM office to make their stance on the issue known.
Joseph Vaile, executive director of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and one of the organizers of Sunday’s protest, which drew about 250 people, said he and other local leaders and supporters of the monument were granted about half an hour of Zinke’s time to advocate for the monument expansion and dispel the myths associated with it.
Myths about the monument include the idea that it limits access for outdoor recreation, takes away private land and prohibits forest restoration and management, he said.
“Really, what we want to tell the secretary is that this is a place like no other,” he said. “It has some of the most diverse landscapes in the world. We need to protect it for our children and grandchildren.”
Michael Parker, a biology professor at Southern Oregon University and chairman of the department, said he was one of the scientists who contributed to the studies that led to the monument’s original designation in 2000 and expansion in January.
“The monument was established with the primary purpose of protecting the biodiversity in the region and, to date, is the only monument established specifically to protect biodiversity,” he said, adding that there is a high concentration of species in the region because of the convergence of two major mountain ranges and at least four distinct ecosystems.
The expansion, he said, was necessary because the original boundaries were inadequate, due to population growth and climate change, to protect the objects of scientific interest in the area that prompted the monument designation in the first place.
Logging is banned on national monuments, so any change to the area's designation could open the door to commercial logging.
“A monument is a gift that keeps on giving,” said Richard Hales of Talent.
Ryan Mallory, a local marketing consultant and organizer of the No Monument Tribe, said he wanted to protect the area as much as the next guy, but said the area’s “monument status” limits access as roads are being closed because the BLM does not have the resources to maintain them.
“Fifty-two roads that I regularly traveled since the early '90s have been reduced or closed, and that isn’t even half of them,” he said.
“Logging is what maintains the roads,” he added. “BLM doesn’t have the money to maintain the roads, so they close them and nobody gets access.”
Mallory said he visits the monument several times a week to hunt, fish, swim or photograph the landscapes.
Zinke has until late August to complete his review of all 27 monuments and make his recommendation to Trump.