The October 2017  Conservation Column

by Pepper Trail

We Learn a Little More about the Trump Administration’s Monument Plans

On Sept. 17, the Washington Post published a leaked copy of the text of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act.” This was provided to the White House on August 24, but has never been released to the public. The report was shockingly sloppy and filled with factual errors; for example, stating that “Motorized transportation was prohibited in the original CSNM designation,” which would come as a surprise to anyone driving on Soda Mountain Road, Little Hyatt Road, or, for that matter, the Green- springs Highway. Regarding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the report recommended:

“The Proclamation should be amended, through the use of appropriate authority, including the lawful exercise of the President’s discretion granted by the Act, to protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.

The boundary should be revised through the use of appropriate authority, including lawful exercise of the President’s discretion granted by the Act, in order to reduce impacts on private lands and remove O&C Lands to allow sustained-yield timber production under BLM’s governing Resource Management Plans until revised regional management plan achieves susainable timber yield;

The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.

The DOI should work with Congress to secure funding for adequate infrastructure and management needs to protect objects effectively.”

There were no details as to what the monument boundary reductions or management plan revisions would be. But there is no doubt that they would drastically harm the unique biodiversity that the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established to protect.

Here is the American Bird Conservancy’s statement on the issue, with input from RVAS: Plan to Shrink National Monument Threatens Habitat for Spotted Owl

The Interior Department review of National Monument designations has led to a recommendation that would reduce protection of endangered species’ habitat. One of the targeted monuments is
the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and California, the only monument created specifically to conserve biodiversity, including habitat for the federally listed Northern Spotted Owl. The monument also provides important habitat connectivity for the species by protecting a mountain ridge that connects populations in the Coast and Cascade ranges.

“The Northern Spotted Owl is one of the big losers in this decision,” said Steve Holmer, Vice Presi- dent of Policy for American Bird Conservancy. “Reducing protection of the owl’s habitat in Oregon and California is a sure way to reduce the population of this threatened species.”

The charismatic Great Gray Owl and many other species could also lose important habitat if the size of the monument is reduced. “The monument area, especially the expansion areas around Howard Prairie Lake and Grizzly Peak, is famous among West Coast birders as perhaps the easiest place to see this species,” said Pepper Trail, Conservation Chair of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society and a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society. “Mountain meadow habitats around Hyatt and Howard Prairie Lakes used by Great Grey Owls for hunting are also important nesting areas for Sandhill Cranes and the sharply declining Oregon Vesper Sparrow.”

Trail noted that the monument expansion to the east, along a ridge known as Surveyor Mountain, is important habitat for higher-elevation birds that may be threatened by climate change in the region, including Red Crossbill, Cassin’s Finch, and Gray Jay. The lower-elevation expansion areas to the west and south protect oak savannah and chaparral birds. Oak savannah is critically declining in the region. The expansion areas are home to the slender-billed subspecies of White-breasted Nut- hatch, healthy nesting populations of Western Meadowlark and Savannah Sparrow, and important wintering habitat for Lewis’s Woodpeckers, among other species.

“The expanded monument not only provides vitally important additional nesting and wintering habitat for a variety of vulnerable bird species, but greatly strengthens the monument’s ecological connections in all four directions,” Trail said. “Such strong connections are essential to allow birds and all other organisms to respond successfully to climate change, and the monument was established precisely because of its critical location at the crossroads of multiple ecoregions. To reduce the monument would harm the ecological value it was established to protect.”

In addition to putting birds and other wildlife at risk, eliminating protected areas on National Monuments and other public lands threatens to undermine a sustainable economic engine. According to Headwaters Economics, the community of Jackson County, Ore. — which borders the Cascade- Siskiyou National Monument — has experienced strong economic growth since the monument’s designation. Jobs grew by 14 percent, real personal income grew by 30 percent, and the population grew by 16 percent.

“This review threatens to diminish one of our country’s greatest treasures: our natural heritage,” said ABC’s Holmer. “These special places belong to all of us and should be preserved for future generations of Americans. We urge the President to stand behind the American people and reject these harmful recommendations.”

And, in other news from the American Bird Conservancy:

Grouse Plan Revisions Risk Endangering the Species

Conservation of one of the nation’s fastest-disappearing birds took a step back in August when the U.S. Department of the Interior ordered revisions to Greater Sage-Grouse management plans, opening the door to expanded development across the American West.

“Habitat protection for the grouse is already at a minimum level based on the plans put in place just two years ago,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at American Bird Conservancy. “Weakening these plans puts the grouse at grave risk of further population declines.”

In addition to one of the West’s most iconic species, more than 350 species of High Plains birds and wildlife are also at stake. The existing grouse conservation plans were designed to halt the loss of sage grouse habitat and to balance conservation with limited oil and gas drilling, mining, and renewable energy development. They also include safeguards for adaptive management and mitigation should grouse populations continue to decline, bolstering the decision not to list the Greater Sage- Grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

I’m afraid that environmental protections will be under continual threat by actions like these from the Trump Administration. It’s going to be a long haul. Please stay informed and stay involved. The survival of our birds and the preservation of bird habitats are going to depend on all of us. Thank you.