Congressman Greg Walden's Tuesday appearance in Medford was an exercise in vintage humbuggery.
"Enough is enough when they go to lock up our public lands without any public input," Walden said to a small crowd of supporters at the Jackson County Courthouse.
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Just how much is enough wilderness and/or national monument — the distinction between the two seemed to elude Walden — is a matter of ongoing debate in our region and the nation. But nobody is "locking up" the land in question, and no public input has been curtailed.
Enough is enough when politicians go to setting up strawmen and knocking them down.
What had the Hood River Republican exercised was Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Secretarial Order 3310, which was issued Dec. 23. The order essentially undoes an extraordinary order that then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton issued in the first Bush administration ordering the Bureau of Land Management to abandon its traditional job of protecting land that Congress might one day consider for the wilderness designation.
Salazar's order said nothing about national monuments. It simply reaffirmed the BLM's traditional job.
What Walden saw was something very different.
"This 'Wildlands Initiative' allows his agency — the BLM and others — to manage these lands and treat them as wilderness without any public involvement at all," Walden said.
That is just so wrong on so many levels that it demands some sorting out.
First, Walden conflated Salazar's BLM order with proposals for a Siskiyou Crest National Monument, even though the order makes no such recommendation. As the Mail Tribune explained in a Thursday editorial, one has nothing to do with the other.
But once Walden had the specter of an imaginary monument in hand, he not only ran with it, he quickly morphed it into a "wilderness," asserting that under the secretary's order the BLM could manage lands and "treat them as wilderness without any public involvement at all."
In the spirit of that allegation, Walden signed, along with 56 other congressmen, a hyperventilating letter that charged that 3310 was "an underhanded attempt "… to circumvent Congress and the federal rulemaking process."
Second, Walden seemed shocked — shocked! — by a president's power to create monuments.
"How can the Obama administration do this, all without getting input from you or the elected representatives you send to Washington?" he asked.
The answer is: Under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Congress creates wilderness areas. National monuments are created by the president. Period. Been that way for more than a century. Congress has no legal role in the process. Walden is either woefully uninformed or he's being disingenuous.
Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, used the Antiquities Act to protect Devil's Tower in Wyoming because he thought Congress was dragging its feet and the famed landmark would be lost to private development.
The act specified that protection was to be extended to "the smallest area compatible" with preservation, but it included a clause allowing for protection of objects of "scientific interest." TR used that rationale in 1908 to protect 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon, which was then the target of commercial schemes that would have destroyed its natural character forever. Would anybody today argue that the Grand Canyon is not one (very large) object of scientific interest?
It's true that the power to create monuments has been used rather sparingly, and that local groups have sometimes opposed the creation of new monuments, sometimes vigorously. But that didn't stop Bill Clinton from creating 16 national monuments, or George W. Bush from creating the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument, which at 140,000 square miles dwarfs all others.
Beyond confusing a routine administrative order with unrelated monument proposals, beyond confusing national monuments with wilderness areas, Walden used rhetoric that's neither precise nor helpful. How is an area "locked up" if residents are free to enter it and enjoy a range of visitor activities similar to those of our national parks?
The discussions we have about the use of public lands will loom large in the lives of our children's children. It's a discussion in which flimflammery and political buzzwords won't be helpful.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for this column, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.