Based on science, shaped by politics

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to Southern Oregon last week to gather information on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as part of the Trump administration’s broader review of national monuments. As scientists with many years of research experience in the monument area, we met with Secretary Zinke.

Our goals were to explain why the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is unique, why expansion was essential to protect its biological treasures, how expansion areas were scientifically identified and why the expanded monument’s boundaries fulfilled the Antiquities Act requirement to be “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was proclaimed in June 2000 by President Clinton, who declared the area to be “an ecological wonder ... a biological crossroads — the interface of the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou ecoregions, in an area of unique geology, biology, climate, and topography ... home to a spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose survival in this region depends upon its continued ecological integrity.” These include the endangered northern spotted owl and Gentner’s fritillary flower, the unique Jenny Creek redband trout, and at least 130 species of butterflies.

The original monument protected almost 53,000 acres of public land, but concerns remained that its boundaries were too constricted. These concerns became urgent as accelerating land use impacts surrounding the monument and the effects of climate change threatened the unique ecological values the monument was established to protect. In April 2011, we joined a diverse group of other scientists knowledgeable about the region on a report concluding that expansion of the monument was necessary to safeguard the area's outstanding biological values.

This began an extended, broad-based effort to identify and document areas of public land adjacent to the original Monument that were most essential to preserve the area’s diversity, ecological integrity and well-functioning connections to the larger regional landscape. This effort involved experts in ecology, botany, mammalogy, ornithology, ichthyology, entomology, and a variety of other scientific disciplines. Participants included professors from Oregon State University and Southern Oregon University, as well as former Medford BLM scientists (federal rules unfortunately prevented the involvement of current BLM staff).

To maintain oak savannas and their transition to higher-elevation conifer forests, our reports identified the “Rogue Valley Foothills” and “Grizzly Peak” areas. The “Southern Cascades” expansion area north of Howard Prairie linked with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The “Johnson and Fall Creek” expansion area was particularly vital to protect the high-elevation ridge of Surveyor Mountain, whose snowpack feeds headwaters streams of Jenny Creek. Finally, the “Klamath River Ridges” area protected the lower reaches of Jenny Creek, as well as vital deer winter range just across the California border.

These scientific recommendations alerted federal officials that expansion was required to protect the monument’s biological “objects of interest” — the area’s extraordinary biodiversity and vital ecological connections for the entire ecoregion. Meanwhile, tireless efforts by the local community generated tremendous grassroots support.

On Jan. 12, 2017, President Obama announced expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by almost 48,000 acres. Secretary Zinke remarked that the new boundaries look odd, in particular the long “arms” that stretch west to Grizzly Peak and east to Surveyor Mountain. That shape reflects the give-and-take of the public process.

The scientists’ recommended outer boundaries were significantly larger than those proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and the presidentially expanded monument includes even 15,000 fewer acres than Oregon’s senators proposed. Our understanding is that the decision was made — based on extensive public input received by Merkley and Wyden — to minimize the amount of private land within the expanded monument. Private lands within national monuments of course remain private and are not subject to monument management. Still, this was how decision-makers interpreted the Antiquities Act’s “smallest area compatible” protection mandate.

The final boundaries were, as always, a compromise. Although not all the scientists’ recommendations were followed, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument has been expanded by almost 48,000 acres to include most of the highest priority areas identified by scientists. The vital importance of the expansion has been endorsed in a letter signed by 220 scientists from around the United States.

There is no question: this monument expansion — even though modified during the public process — is nonetheless ecologically significant and science-based. It goes a long way toward the essential goal of protecting the monument’s ecological integrity into the future. Without expansion, that protection was gravely threatened.

— Michael Parker, Ph.D., is professor and chair of the biology program at Southern Oregon University. Pepper Trail, Ph.D., is a fellow of the American Ornithological Society and conservation co-chair of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society. Jack Williams, Ph.D., is the senior scientist for Trout Unlimited and a former Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor.

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