The Conservation Column
by Pepper Trail
Welcome back from summer! With unprecedented heat baking the globe and political divisions at an all-time high, it’s easy to focus on the negative. So let’s ease into fall by highlighting two positive developments on the local conservation front.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Expansion Wins in Court — Again
In July, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the legality of an expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument made by President Obama in 2017, reversing a lower court decision that threw the Monument’s boundaries into doubt. This federal court ruling joins a victorious ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in April that also declared the monument expansion lawful.
“This lawsuit attempted to rob Oregonians and all Americans of a biological treasure that deserves permanent protection,” said Kristen Boyles, attorney with Earthjustice. “Appeals courts in DC and Seattle have now upheld Monument expansion, rejecting every single one of the timber industry’s arguments.”
The Monument was first designated in 2000 under the Antiquities Act as an ecological wonder known for its incredible diversity of species. The court decision today again confirms protection of these special federal lands and is a major victory for the Monument and the spectacular variety of plants, fish, and wildlife that depend on the Monument’s ecological integrity.
The legal arguments in these cases hinged on whether a 1937 law, the Oregon and California Lands (O&C) Act, committed approximately 40,000 acres of the monument expansion to commercial logging, making those lands ineligible for inclusion in a monument.
The D.C. Circuit rejected the industry’s arguments and affirmed that the President acted within his authority under the Antiquities Act when he expanded the national monument. “This opinion cements the interpretation that the O&C Act provides BLM with authority to manage the O&C lands for many uses, including conservation and recreation,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney with Silvix Resources.
“The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is a great gift to present and future generations,” said Dave Willis, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council chair and long-time Monument advocate. “We’re very glad this unanimous Court saw fit to not let logging companies take any of this gift away.”
Monument supporters, ranging from local residents and conservation groups to elected officials, business owners, scientists, botanists, hunters, and anglers, have fought for decades to protect this special area straddling south-west Oregon and northwest California that is known worldwide for its remarkable biodiversity.
“Western Oregon BLM lands provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, and countless opportunities for recrea-tion,” said Joseph Vaile, Climate Director with Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “This decision ensures that these public lands are managed for their many social and environmental values, including the phenomenal Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.”
“Once again, courts have rejected the logging industry’s abhorrent theory that BLM lands cannot be conserved,” said Doug Heiken Conservation and Restoration Coordinator with Oregon Wild. “These are public lands, managed for more than just logging. Special places like the Cascade-Siskiyou
National Monument and our mature and old-growth forests deserve to be safeguarded for fish and wildlife, and clean drinking water.”
Earthjustice attorneys Ashley Bennett and Kristen Boyles and Silvix Resources attorney Susan Jane Brown
represented Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Oregon Wild in defense of the Monument’s expansion.
I-5 Wildlife Crossing
The Southern Oregon Wildlife Crossing Coalition, of which Rogue Valley Audubon is a part, has made tremendous progress toward making a wildlife crossing over I-5 a reality. Working with ODOT, SOWCC has analyzed all the potential sites for such a crossing, and has selected the Mariposa Preserve, at Milepost 1.7 as the best location. This site, within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, offers the best combination of favorable topography, geology, and wildlife use to create an effective crossing.
SOWCC has produced an excellent video to explain and promote the wildlife crossing effort, and both full 15-minute and short 3-minute versions are available on YouTube at:
15 Minute: https://youtu.be/0uKKRfzGpk4
3 Minute: https://youtu.be/T8kjRJklj3I
SOWCC’s earmark request for $400,000 to help fund the fencing design planning has been included in the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (T-HUD) bill that was released in July. Oregon Wildlife Foundation made the request on SOWCC and ODOT’s behalf and will receive and distribute the funds once they are available. There is still a long way to go before it is signed into law by President Biden, but getting in the bill is a HUGE step. Thank you Senators Merkley and Wyden.
As the conceptual drawing by ODOT (included above) shows, the Mariposa Crossing overpass would be a major structure, costing millions of dollars. Therefore, SOWCC and ODOT have worked together to apply for a major grant from the federal Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program. The federal program is highly competitive, but our application is very strong, and we are optimistic about our chances to make this visionary project a reality. Imagine how great it will feel to drive under this structure as we travel to or from California, knowing that it is safely passing deer, elk, bears, and so many other species across this barrier to the movement of wildlife!