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An ecological legacy

ASHLAND — Those who scramble along the rocky walls of the Jenny Creek Canyon to reach Jenny Creek Falls will see views rarely captured by the naked eye.

Hike there June 11 with members of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, and you'll learn there's biology behind that beauty.

They'll hear how the falls actually create a natural barrier isolating the creek's endemic native redband trout and Jenny Creek sucker — the only dwarf sucker found in the Pacific Northwest — and why these special fauna and their habitats deserve special protections.

"To know these places is to love them," council Chairman Dave Willis says. "Loving them leads to defending them."

The council this weekend will launch its annual series of spring hikes into new portions of the monument, and council leaders are unabashed that the hikes are intended to grow public support for keeping the newly expanded monument intact.

The six hikes are all within public lands added to the monument by outgoing President Barack Obama's use of the Antiquities Act to expand the monument to 113,0913 acres within a 137,500-acre footprint.

Organizers say they each highlight features of why a group of scientists studying the region concluded that these lands — and more acreage not added to the monument footprint — need to be added to the monument to ensure protection of the "spectacular biological diversity" that led to its creation by outgoing President Bill Clinton in 2000.

"All of these hikes are not just about going to a beautiful place," Willis says. "They're about learning the ecological values and how they fit into the legacy of the Cascade-Siskiyou biological corridor."

This year's hikes include visits to portions of California's Siskiyou County, the old-growth groves around Little Hyatt Lake, and Grizzly Peak, a popular hiking destination now part of the monument.

For all the hikes, participants must preregister with the hike leader. Hikers will meet in Ashland at designated times, usually carpooling to the hike location.

Hikers should bring lunch, snacks, plenty of water, rain gear, sun protection and sturdy boots. The hikes range from leisurely to vigorous, with hikes such as the Jenny Creek Falls exploration "not recommended for general audiences," Willis says.

Group sizes vary and are up to the hike leaders. Dogs are allowed only by prior permission at the discretion of the hike leader.

The council has been offering free guided hikes since it formed in 1984, and they eventually morphed into the spring hike series. 

In previous years, the council has used the hikes as a conduit for showcasing the uniqueness of lands outside of the monument that its members argued should be added, most of which Obama did just before leaving office in January.

Like old monument lands, the protections offered by monument status apply only to public lands and not private lands within its footprint.

This year's hikes come as two federal lawsuits are challenging whether the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was improperly expanded into O&C Act lands, based on a 1940 internal Interior Department review that concluded O&C Act lands cannot be rolled into monument status.

The council has filed to argue in federal court on behalf of the government's defense of that status.

In April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for, among other things, a review of whether the Antiquities Act was properly applied during the monument's expansion. Specifically, the review will delve into whether the expansion covered the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” according to the Department of the Interior.

Willis has said he believes the expansion is defensible against such scrutiny, and he said he is glad upcoming hikers can get a feel for what that means.

"We are grateful to the past administration to expand the monument to the extent they did," Willis says. "These hikes are to places that will help people appreciate that expansion."

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

A hike to Jenny Creek Falls is one of the outings in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council's annual hike series. [Photo by Dennis Odion]