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Monument on downsizing list

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Donald Trump downsize the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and two others in Utah following Zinke's review of 27 national monuments — a move met in Oregon with promises of litigation.

The Washington Post reported today that multiple sources familiar with Zinke's draft report said it identified the recently expanded Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument for downsizing, but the Post report did not include any specifics about what areas would be chopped.

In a publicly released summary of the report, Zinke states that President Donald Trump "no doubt" has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify a monument created under the 101-year-old Antiquities Act, a conclusion challenged by monument supporters.

To date, no president has eliminated any of the nearly 200 national monuments created under act, but 18 times presidents have reduced monument acreage. None of those reductions, however, were challenged in federal courts.

"We'll find out what the president does," said monument supporter Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. "If the president tries to do anything to alter the monument, that would be illegal, so we'll challenge that in court.

"The Antiquities Act gives presidents the power to protect public lands," Willis said. "It doesn't give the president power to unprotect public lands."

In July, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sent Zinke a letter stating her office would take "appropriate legal action" should the monument be reduced in size.

Monument expansion opponents hailed the decision, hoping it could lead to more cattle grazing and logging in areas that could help reduce wildfire threats.

"I think it's a terrific decision that couldn't have come fast enough," said Dave Schott, president of the Medford-based Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

"It's not going to prevent anybody from going up there and using it," Schott said. "There would still be a monument and a wilderness area up there."

The full report, which was not made public, addresses 21 national monuments currently under review by the Trump administration after six previously were eliminated from further review by Zinke.

Two others recommended for downsizing were the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Zinke made a two-day visit to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in July. He spent one day touring the monument with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and other expansion opponents, then he met the following day with various monument factions, including Willis and Gov. Kate Brown, who opposes any monument alterations.

The report's summary, released late Thursday morning by the Interior Department, does not name any monument being eyed for shrinking, nor give any acreage estimates.

However, a sentence in the draft summary may allude to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, whose 113,008 acres are within a 170,408-acre footprint that includes 57,400 acres of private land where monument restrictions do not apply. These numbers are newly updated acreage amounts provided by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

"Other monuments remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other Federal land designations such as national forests, Wilderness Study Areas and lands specifically set aside by Congress for timber production," the draft states.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument contains the 60,434-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness Area as well as two Research Natural Areas within the original monument lands designated in 2000 by President Bill Clinton to protect the "spectacular biological diversity" of the area.

President Barack Obama's January expansion of the monument includes four areas of "Critical Environmental Concern." The monument boundaries also contain about 54,450 acres originally set aside for timber production by the O&C Act. Of those, 40,155 acres were in the original proclamation.

The expansion, which was supported by dozens of scientists, was successfully pitched to Obama as a way of protecting the region's headwaters and creating higher-elevation refugia for unique flora and fauna in the face of climate change.

The BLM is facing two lawsuits by timber interests and the Association of O&C Counties, which include Jackson and Josephine counties, to remove those lands from monument status. The suits cite a 1940 Interior legal opinion concluding O&C Act lands cannot be converted to monument lands.

The draft summary states that any lands recommended for losing monument status would remain federal, and that any notion that these lands would be sold or transferred from public ownership is "false."

The report states that the Interior Department received more than 2.4 million public comments since Zinke announced the review of 27 monuments May 5. The report said the comments in favor of keeping the monuments intact were "overwhelming."

Since May, Zinke has named six monuments whose boundaries he will not recommend adjusting.

Local BLM officials declined to comment today on the report, referring inquiries to a generic Interior press email address to which past requests for information by the Mail Tribune have gone unanswered. A similar request today was not immediately answered.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, asks questions of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at Hyatt Lake during a July visit to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Zinke has recommended the monument for downsizing, according to officials familiar with his report to President Trump. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]