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Expansion planning excluded county officials

There is a recent push to garner support for an expansion to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument; not simply an expansion, but a doubling of its size. There are many concerns regarding this proposal: the process of the plan, the plan itself and the reasoning behind the proposal.

The planning process to consider such an increase to the existing monument is flawed. First of all, most of this expansion lies in Jackson County, and yet, Jackson County has not been included in the planning process. Instead, legislators have written letters behind the backs of your local elected representatives to the secretary of the interior, circumventing the inclusion and authority of your local government.

Planning has occurred; maps have been drawn up, with no apparent reasoning to why some lands are in need of protection and adjacent parcels are not. There is even a strip of blacktop on highway 66 that is considered deserving of this protection. In one of the letters to Secretary Jewell, there are exaggerated and misleading claims by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Barbara Boxer that the expansion has “strong backing from elected officials, citizens, chambers of commerce, conservationists, and local landowners.”

Conversely, local elected officials have proclaimed opposition, and not “backing” to the expansion. These include commissioners from Jackson, Klamath, Josephine, Douglas and Siskiyou counties and Congressmen Bishop, McClintock, Walden and LaMalfa, as well as Oregon legislators Baertschiger, McLane, Wilson, Esquivel, Stark and Gail and Doug Whitsett. This opposition is further supported by the Association of Oregon Counties, District 4 representatives, the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County and the Association of O&C Counties. Numerous associations and citizens have voiced their opposition to the expansion. The planning that has occurred appears to have been driven by special interests and targeted groups of affirmation and is not well represented by the people of Jackson County.

The plan itself doubles the size of the monument. Of the 53,100 acres being considered, 50,900 are classified and managed as O&C lands, which Congress provided for permanent forest production under the O&C Lands Act of 1937 (Public Law 75-405). The solicitor general for the Department of the Interior previously affirmed that the president lacks authority under the Antiquities Act to include O&C lands in any monument designation (M. 30506). Eighteen counties in Oregon are affected by O&C managed lands, creating even more financial hardship to counties reliant upon shared timber receipts.

The reasoning behind the proposal has been declared to be “science-based.” The science has not been brought forth to local officials, published, or otherwise made known to either support nor deny its claims. However, science is not a new concept to these public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and these records are public and have allowed full public input. In 2008 and 2016, the BLM prepared environmental impact statements in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agencies have been studying these specific lands collectively for years. These efforts were done with full public disclosure, as the National Environmental Policy Act requires, publishing the science that was considered, the implications of alternative management approaches, and provided multiple opportunities for the public to provide input. Neither of the EISs identified issues that would warrant or recommend expansion of the monument as a solution. In contrast, in the recent push to expand the monument, there has been no comparable public disclosure, findings, or implications of expanding the monument.

I am very thankful for the many legislators and hundreds of citizens of our county who have stepped up to the plate and voiced their objections to this expansion. It is my sincere desire that our federal representation, (the senators and the Department of the Interior, as well as the president), will listen to our concerns and input. We are the stakeholders. It is a matter of county concern, and we are paying attention.

— Colleen Roberts is a Jackson County commissioner.