The federal government unlawfully expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument onto public land that’s dedicated to timber production, according to a lawsuit by 17 Oregon counties.
The Association of O&C Counties claims the national monument designation will effectively prohibit logging on 35,000 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management forests that must be harvested on a “sustained yield basis” under a 1937 law.
Capital Press was unable to reach a representative of the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the BLM.
The 53,000-acre national monument was initially created in 2000 under the Clinton administration and was recently increased by 48,000 acres in the waning days of the Obama administration, to the consternation of timber and grazing interests.
Much of the newly added acreage is comprised of lands the federal government originally granted to the Oregon & California Railroad in the late 1800s but later repossessed due to a contract breach.
Because that property was taken off county tax rolls, the O&C Act of 1937 committed it to forest production, with 50-75 percent of the logging revenues going to 17 counties in Western Oregon.
The Association of O&C Counties, which represents those governments, argues that O&C Lands can’t be included in the national monument because commercial logging is prohibited within its boundaries.
According to the complaint, the federal government has repeatedly backed off from including portions of the O&C Lands within a national monument, a wilderness area or a state park.
In 1986, the federal government concluded that O&C Lands may only be included in a plan to protect the threatened spotted owl if it doesn’t conflict with timber production, the complaint said.
Counties affected by the expansion were caught by surprise by the Obama administration’s announcement and had no input on the decision, said Rocky McVay, executive director of the Association of O&C Counties.
“We’re very disappointed we weren’t brought into this early on,” he said.
It’s possible that ranchers and inholding landowners may also file lawsuits against the expansion, McVay said.
The Murphy Co., an Oregon veneer and plywood manufacturer, and Murphy Timber Investments, an Oregon forest landowner, have filed a lawsuit over the decision, largely on the same legal grounds.
Both lawsuits have asked a federal judge to declare that expanding the national monument onto O&C Lands exceeds presidential authority.
McVay said his group hasn’t been in touch with the Trump administration about the lawsuit and whether the expansion could be rolled back under a settlement deal.
“We have to wait and see. The ink hasn’t quite dried on it yet,” he said, noting that Ryan Zinke, the nominee to head the Interior Department, hasn’t yet been confirmed by the Senate.
The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental group in the area, believes the acreage added to the national monument is valuable beyond its extractive uses, said Jeanine Moy, outreach director for the group.
“There are not many places that are as biologically diverse as this region,” she said.
The lawsuit’s understanding of the O&C Act is too narrow, as the statute also recognizes the importance of preserving stream flows and recreational uses, Moy said.
“Counties have largely intepreted it as ‘timber first’ when the Act doesn’t necessarily say that,” she said.
It’s uncertain whether environmental groups will seek to intervene in the lawsuit as defendants or how the Trump administration will react to the complaint, Moy said.
Expanding the national monument provides better access for researchers and the public while the lawsuit is focused on extracting timber, she said. “It really only goes to benefit just a few.”