Enviros seek to defend expansion

    A hiker walks through burned-out forest on a trail up Grizzly Peak east of Ashland. Grizzly Peak is included in the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

    Environmental groups have filed petitions to allow them to defend last month's expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in federal court, saying they can't rely on the federal agencies nor the Trump administration to defend their interests in keeping the expansion intact.

    The motions request to allow the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and other groups to intervene and legally argue against two lawsuits seeking to scuttle the 47,624-acre expansion of the monument signed by President Barack Obama in his last week in office.

    The suits challenge Obama's use of the federal Antiquities Act to expand the monument into about 40,000 acres of federal O&C Act lands originally set aside by Congress for sustained timber production as managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It includes a 1940 internal government review that concluded the Antiquities Act cannot be used to take O&C lands out of timber production.

    The environmental groups' motions say their long history of advocating for monument lands may not be adequately protected in court because of the federal government's "frequent reluctance" to protect O&C lands, "particularly following changes in political administration."

    "We're just eager to see the monument expansion hold firm," said Dave Willis, executive director of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. "It was smaller than scientists recommended. To lose all or any of it would be unfortunate for the plants and animals that depend upon it, as well as present and future generations."

    Michael Haglund, a Portland lawyer who filed a suit against the expansion on Feb. 17 on behalf of the Murphy Co. and its investment holdings, said Murphy Co. was notified of the environmental groups' intervention prior to their filings.

    Haglund said it was "pretty standard" for industry and environmental groups to help defend their stakeholders in disputes like this.

    The Murphy Co. suit was filed in federal court in Medford. A similar suit was filed by the Association of O&C Counties on Feb. 13 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

    The environmental groups' intervention motions were filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Medford and Monday in Washington, D.C. The Soda Mountain Wilderness Council was joined by the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild and The Wilderness Society.

    When the original 66,000 acres of monument were designated under the Antiquities Act by President Bill Clinton to protect what he called their "spectacular biological diversity" in 2000, O&C lands were included in that proclamation. However, the designation was not challenged as to whether the Antiquities Act could be used to trump the O&C Lands Act.

    The motions to intervene point out that federal courts have ruled multiple times that other federal environmental laws apply to O&C lands.

    The monument now includes 113,013 acres in a footprint that covers about 137,500 acres and expands beyond southeastern Jackson County into Klamath County and California.

    Private lands, including more than 2,000 acres of Murphy timberland, inside that 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 claims its lands will lose significant value if the expansion is not overturned.

    The expansion does not block public access to the public lands within its boundaries, but it could lead to some changes in how those lands are accessed.

    — 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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