MEDFORD, Ore. - Over the weekend, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon, one of about two dozen national monuments whose status and borders his agency is reviewing at the direction of President Donald Trump.
Zinke met with stakeholders in the region, including state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland.
Marsh told Eric Tegethoff of Oregon News Service she wants Zinke to keep three things in mind when considering the monument's status.
First, it's the only national monument designated to protect an area's rich biological diversity. Second, she said, it has a lot of local support. And last is the economic piece.
"We really see this as being a part of our economic future here in southern Oregon," Marsh explained. "We are a region that's been dependent on resource extraction in the past. For many reasons, timber's gone away, and we're building a new, strong economy that's based in large part on tourism."
In a letter to Zinke last week, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum threatened to sue the Trump administration if it attempts to shrink the monument's size or revoke its status.
President Barack Obama expanded the original 53,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou monument, created in 2000, by nearly 50,000 acres shortly before leaving office.
Cascade-Siskiyou's monument status gives it higher priority for management and protection from resource extraction.
It’s now one of 27 national monuments created in the last two decades that are under review by the Trump administration.
Zinke’s recommendation for potential changes to the Cascade Siskiyou’s monument is due Aug. 23, after which any final decision will be in President Donald Trump’s hands.
“He’s the best boss I’ve ever worked for. He doesn’t micromanage,” Zinke said.
The Capital Press reported that since undertaking the Cascade-Siskiyou monument review, Zinke said he hasn’t gotten a satisfactory answer to a key question.
“How were the boundaries made? Nobody knows how the boundaries were made,” Zinke said Saturday.
While he’s prepared to accept the premise that the area’s flora and fauna justify a monument designation, Zinke said the Cascade-Siskiyou’s boundaries seem arbitrary in some areas.
So far, he said, nobody at the Interior Department has taken responsibility for drawing the boundaries or explaining their placement.
Zinke said he’s also examining how the boundaries affect traditional economic uses, such as grazing and timber, as well as recreational uses, including hiking, snowmobiling and horseback riding.
Legal precedents have made clear that presidents can modify national monuments — it has occurred 18 times in the past, Zinke said.
The law is less certain when it comes to an outright rescission of a monument, Zinke said -- such a decision would have to be substantially justified by the science.
During a stop at Hyatt Lake, which abuts the monument, Zinke was greeted by supporters and opponents of the monument.
Rancher Robin Haptonstall said he didn’t believe the expansion was legal because much of it encompassed “O&C Lands” that the federal government dedicated to timber production.
Bonnie Johnson, a monument neighbor who supports the expansion, said the Cascade-Siskiyou is a major tourist draw.
“It’s like a cathedral,” she said. “It’s a spiritual experience.”
Jack Williams, a senior scientist with Trout Unlimited, said that's especially important for a region recognized around the world for its unique variety of animals and plants.
"It's kind of a biological crossroads between a number of different eco-regional units, such as the Cascades and the Siskiyous, and the Great Basin areas," he stated.
Marsh said this monument shouldn't be seen as a litmus test for timber policy in Oregon, saying that's a policy to be debated on the thousands of acres that exist outside the monument.
"This monument is really about the unique features that it presents to the landscape, and the importance here of really maintaining the extraordinary biological diversity that's on the ground," she stressed.
Governor Kate Brown toured the monument on Sunday and met with Zinke to urge the federal administration to protect Oregon's federal public lands. In a statement, Brown said she also met with local leaders and elected officials who are concerned the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument designation may be scaled back or eliminated.
"The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument represents some of the most iconic and important public lands in Oregon," the governor said. "Oregon's public lands are the basis of our economy and an inspiration to our communities, and we will fight to keep our public lands in public hands.
"We have a long tradition of environmental stewardship, and Oregonians worked collaboratively for decades to preserve the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument lands. I urge the federal administration to take to heart the voices of Oregonians who've made it clear that the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument should remain protected."