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Cascade-Siskiyou stays intact, for now

The Interior Department appears to have backed off its proposal to shrink the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and seven other monuments tapped by the Trump administration for downsizing.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Wednesday in a Senate subcommittee hearing that he has no plans to change the remaining monuments that his predecessor, Ryan Zinke, recommended for downsizing in 2017 after a review of 27 national monuments.

While Bernhardt said he wouldn’t take action without direction from Trump, the White House as recently as March said further actions on monuments remained under consideration.

If the monuments are kept intact, it would mean the only downsizing occurred on 2 million acres in two national monuments in Utah, which came amid a fierce public blow-back.

“People love their monuments, and I don’t think it makes political sense to reduce protections on public lands,” said Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council.

“Trump already reduced two Utah monuments by 2 million acres, the largest reduction of protected public lands in U.S. history,” Willis said. “I think the administration was surprised how unpopular that was.”

Dave Schott, president of the Medford-based Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, called Bernhardt’s decision “just a horribly unfortunate situation” that puts the monument lands at greater risk for devastating wildfire.

Not shrinking the monument means more timber stands lost to production and less grazing on summer grasses, both of which could lead to more wildfires like last year’s 9,600-acre Klamathon fire that raged north from California into the monument, he said.

“Had the Klamathon not stopped by a wind shift last year, the monument would have burned up,” Schott said. “It’s destined at some point to burn, whether it’s this year or five years or 10 years from now.”

Zinke made his 2017 recommendations after touring several monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou. A public-comment period generated “overwhelming” public support for keeping the monuments intact, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Wednesday’s development came more than a month after a federal judge ruled against a lumber company’s claim that the Cascade-Siskiyou inappropriately includes O&C Lands Act lands originally set aside for timber production.

The state of Oregon has promised a lawsuit if Trump goes through with shrinkage of the monument, which now extends into Northern California.

In the 11th hour of his presidency, President Barack Obama expanded the monument east of Ashland by 47,624 acres to 113,013 acres within a footprint that covers 137,500 acres.

When the original 66,000 acres of monument were designated under the Antiquities Act by President Bill Clinton to protect what he called their “spectacular biological diversity” in 2000, O&C lands were included in that proclamation.

Private lands, including more than 2,000 acres of Murphy Timber land, inside that footprint remain private and are not subject to monument rules, which ban commercial timber harvest but would allow well-vetted noncommercial cutting.

Public access is not blocked to public lands within monument boundaries, but some restrictions like off-road vehicle use are possible.

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

In this July 6, 2000, file photo, Pilot Rock rises into the clouds in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument near Ashland.AP Photo/Jeff Barnard, File)