The Fate of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

This month’s Chat is coming out a few days late because we wanted to wait for the announcement regarding the results of the Trump Administration’s review of national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act – including, of course, our own Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The recommendations from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke were due August 24.

As most of you know, Secretary Zinke visited Medford in July to tour the monument and meet with local officials and stakeholders representing both supporters and opponents of the monument expansion proclaimed by President Obama in January. I was one of the scientists who met with Zinke, and I strongly emphasized the importance of the expansion to preserve the biological values that the monument was established to protect. Zinke made no statement revealing his position on the expansion, but some of his comments gave us concern that he was considering reducing the size of the monument or changing its management.

Well, I’m writing this on August 25, and the news is bad – but we still don’t know how bad. Yesterday’s announcement was certainly positive in that none of the 27 monuments under review were recommended for elimination, and most were allowed to stand unchanged. Unfortunately, at least three monuments were targeted for size reductions. These three were not actually named in the very short press release, but numerous news sources reported that they include Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah…and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. However, the full Department of the Interior recommendations, although reportedly submitted to the White House, have not been made publiclly available. The Oregonian reported that neither Oregon Senators Wyden or Merkley nor Governor Kate Brown have been briefed on the recommendations.

The approximately 47,000-acre expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in January was vital to increase the resilience of this unique biological crossroads to the effects of climate change, and to strengthen its connections to adjacent eco-regions. Any reduction in the monument’s boundaries would fly in the face of the recommendations of regional scientific experts, which were endorsed in a letter signed by 220 scientists from around the country.

We will closely analyze the Zinke recommendations once they are actually made public, and we will of course keep RVAS members posted on all the Trump Administration’s actions related to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, one of our region’s – and our nation’s – great biological treasures.

The Westerman Bill 

Meanwhile, there is another huge threat to public forestlands looming in Congress. Misleadingly named the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017” (H.R. 2936), this bill is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and usually referred to as the Westerman bill. The following is taken from the Public Lands blog maintained by veteran Oregon environmental activist Andy Kerr.

The Westerman bill would legislate horrifically harmful public forest policy into law. Among its many sins, the Westerman bill would:

  • gut the National Environmental Policy Act by giving the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) essentially a blank check to just start logging in many places for no reason other than getting out the cut;
  • gut the Endangered Species Act by letting the Forest Service and the BLM—not the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service—judge whether federal logging will harm threatened and endangered species;
  • gut the Equal Access to Justice Act so citizens and conservation organizations won’t get their costs reimbursed by the federal government for holding the federal government accountable in federal court to follow its own laws (the timber industry could generally still recover fees and costs);
  • gut the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to allow wholesale logging in national forest roadless areas;
  • gut the Administrative Procedure Act by allowing the federal forest agencies to avoid judicial re- view for up to 230 lawsuits each year;
  • make it nearly impossible for federal forest agencies to decommission environmentally harmful and fiscally challenging roads;
  • gut the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act by converting it to a Secure Timber Industry and Community Oppression Act;
  • gut the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow children to work in the logging industry; essentially require salvage logging after any disturbance regardless of any ecosystem benefits.

Most particular to the Pacific Northwest, the bill would abolish the survey-and-manage requirement of the Northwest Forest Plan and repeal the “eastside screens” that have protected large trees on eastside (non-spotted owl) Oregon and Washington national forests.
The Westerman bill would effectively transfer all road rights-of-way on BLM lands in western Oregon to private timber interests.

The Westerman bill would statutorily require that 500 million board feet of logs be sold each year off of the O&C lands. (The 2016 BLM resource management plan says a maximum of 278 million board feet annually could be logged and that’s only if you don’t mind older forest being clear-cut, scenic views being marred, watersheds being fouled, and wildlife being displaced).

In particular, Sec. 913 would

  • exalt the Oregon and California (O&C) Lands Act of 1937 above any and all statutes that came before 1937 (for example, the Antiquities Act of 1906) or after 1937 (such as the Clean Water Act and
    the Endangered Species Act);
  • convert 400,000 acres of BLM public domain lands in western Oregon—federal public lands that
    were never granted away or taken back for noncompliance with the terms of the grant—to be O&C
    lands and managed exclusively for timber production;
  • effectively override the two presidential proclamations—issued under authority granted by Congress to the president in the Antiquities Act—that established (2000) and expanded (2017) the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument;
  • effectively disestablish the portion of the Wild Rogue Wilderness on BLM land, the Table Rock Wilderness, and the Soda Mountain Wilderness; and
  • effectively disestablish the portions of the Sandy, Rogue, Salmon, North Umpqua and Elkhorn Creek wild and scenic rivers on BLM lands, and the Quartzville Creek Wild and Scenic River.

Will the Westerman bill pass the U.S. House of Representatives? Probably, as the Republicans control that body. Representative Greg Walden (R-2nd-OR) is a cosponsor of the Westerman Bill, and the bill is expected to easily pass through the House Agriculture Committee. It has already been approved by the House Natural Resources Committee.

In stark contrast, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently held a hearing on Senators Ron Wyden’s and Jeff Merkley’s Oregon Wildlands Act of 2017 (S.1548, 115th Congress). The bill would, among other good things, establish the Rogue Canyon and Molalla National Recreation Areas, expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness, establish the Devils Staircase Wilderness, expand the lower Rogue Wild and Scenic River, establish the Franklin Creek, Wasson Creek, Molalla, Nestucca, Walker Creek, North Fork Silver Creek, Jenny Creek, Spring Creek, Lobster Creek, and Elk Creek wild and scenic rivers—all entirely or mostly on  BLM lands in western Oregon and mostly O&C BLM lands at that.

Big Timber has long had the goal of exalting the O&C Lands Act of 1937 to override any and all other federal law—making it a combination of [the] 11th Commandment and the 28th Amendment, if you will.

The battle for the heart and soul of low-elevation older (mature and old-growth) forest in western Oregon is joined. The timber industry has not been successful in court; will it be successful in Congress?