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Expansion gains momentum

Oregon's Democratic U.S. senators have proposed a nearly doubling of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as a way to better protect the unique biodiversity and habitats in the face of climate change.

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have proposed expanding the 16-year-old monument by more than 66,500 acres inside a new, more than 100,000-acre footprint that stretches northwest past Dead Indian Memorial Road, west to Emigrant Lake, east into Klamath County and south into California near Iron Gate Reservoir.

The 90,328 acres proposed for expansion within Oregon includes 56,245 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, including Hyatt Lake and lands surrounding Howard Prairie Lake, as well as chunks of the upper watersheds of Jenny Creek tributaries whose lower reaches are now part of the monument.

The current monument covers about 66,000 acres within an 85,000-acre boundary inside Jackson County east of Ashland.

Like the roughly 19,000 acres of private land already inside the monument, the 34,095 acres of private land inside the proposed new boundary would remain private and not part of the monument.

A new map that shows the proposed boundaries was drawn up by the BLM at the request of the senators, said Martina McLennan, Merkley's deputy communications director.

The areas were chosen following conversations with the community, with a focus on areas that previously had been proposed for recreation and conservation by the BLM or in congressional bills, McLennan said.

Expansion has been pushed by some local conservationists and scientists studying the area as a way to account for full watersheds, protect Jenny Creek's headwaters and include high-elevation public lands needed for the monument's unique flora and fauna as they react to climate change.

Merkley will be in Ashland Friday with Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor for a public meeting to gather comment on the proposal. The meeting will start at 2 p.m. at Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union.

Supporters hope the input will lead Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to urge President Obama to use the same powers under the Antiquities Act to expand the monument that President Bill Clinton used to create it in 2000.

Supporters claim that not doing so threatens the "spectacular biological diversity" and the rare plants, animals and other "objects of interest" cited in Clinton's proclamation that created the monument.

Soda Mountain Wilderness Council Chairman Dave Willis called not following through on the expansion "eco-illogical."

"We hope there is an expanded monument, and we hope it's based on ecological criteria," Willis said.

Willis said 70 percent of the BLM lands within the expansion boundary have been proposed for conservation or recreation designations in Merkley and Wyden's Senate Bill 132.

Landowners holding more than 14,000 acres of private land near the current boundaries have asked to be included in the expansion, and most of those lands are in the proposal, Willis said.

The proposed expansion area includes critical black-tailed deer winter range in Northern California used by deer that migrate out of that area annually, he said.

"This is a biodiversity bargain," Willis said.

Dave Schott, president of the Medford-based Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, said he believes the skids have been greased for expansion and that the local BLM office that drew up the maps didn't address the topic with its own Natural Resource Council, on which Schott sits.  

"I, personally, think it's a fait accompli," Schott said. "It's disconcerting that these things are done from behind closed doors without input."

Schott pointed to the 53,454 acres of O&C Act lands within the proposed expansion as a big loss to potential local timber production, and he said at least two previously sold BLM timber sales within the expansion boundary are likely to be pulled.

Timber cut on O&C lands creates revenue for counties such as Jackson. Schott also said he is concerned that banning grazing in new monument areas would lead to more grass and brush growth and thus more threat for wildfire that could move into private, non-monument lands, as well.

Schott said he believes the Antiquities Act was designed to protect areas of historic significance and that creating monuments such as the Cascade-Siskiyou constitutes a misuse of a portion of the act that includes scientific significance as a factor.

But monument supporters counter that scientists consider the monument area to be one of the most biologically diverse locations in North America, in part because it is a land bridge where four distinct bioregions meet.

Monument expansion has the support of the Ashland and Talent city councils and their chambers of commerce, as well as dozens of scientists who reviewed a 2011 scientific report detailing reasons for expansion.

The monument's outer boundaries have not changed since it was created. Originally it was about 53,000 acres within a roughly 85,000-acre footprint, with the remaining lands islands of private holdings that are not part of the monument.

Since then, willing sellers paid largely through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund have sold about 13,000 more acres within that same footprint.

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

Proposed expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by Mail Tribune on Scribd

Pilot Rock is located in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Scientist and government officials are working to expand the monument to protect its unique biological diversity. Mail Tribune File Photo