Groups representing Oregon counties and timber companies want to resume litigation against the federal government’s expansion of the Cascade-Sisikiyou National Monument.
However, a federal judge is delaying proceedings in the two lawsuits until Dec. 1 to give the Trump administration more time to consider scaling back the monument’s size.
The monument’s boundaries were increased from about 66,000 acres to 114,000 acres in the waning days of the Obama administration, angering livestock producers and timber companies that rely on the public land for grazing and logging.
Most logging is prohibited within the monument and the designation also has the potential for grazing restrictions.
The Association of O&C Counties and the American Forest Resource Council both filed complaints against the expansion, arguing the national monument can’t include federal property that’s dedicated to timber harvest.
Those cases were stayed after the Trump administration decided to review the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and others created in the past two decades.
During the summer, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted recommendations implying the monument should be reduced by roughly 16,600 acres that were previously open to logging under resource management plans.
The Association of O&C Counties is dissatisfied with this proposal, since Zinke did not address the inclusion of more than 35,000 acres of so-called O&C Lands in the monument.
O&C Lands were once granted to a railroad but then repossessed by the federal government and devoted to logging, with Western Oregon counties receiving a portion of the timber revenues.
The counties’ lawsuit against the federal government should be re-activated since their fundamental problem would not be resolved under the recommendations delivered during the summer, according to the Association of O&C Counties.
“Since that time, however, the Secretary has completed his review and submitted his final report to the President and there is no clear prospect of relief. If anything, the opposite is true,” the group said in a court brief.
The American Forest Resource Council likewise argued that its lawsuit might as well be resumed since it won’t be mooted by anything other than a complete reversal of the expansion.
“This inevitableness means that a stay only kicks the metaphorical can down the road, while continuing to worsen the harmful impacts the Monument expansion is having on the timber industry,” according to AFRC’s court brief.
The timber group claims the monument’s expansion has effectively shut down timber harvests that were planned for the next 10 years in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Klamath Falls Resource Area.
“Timber on federal lands is highly regulated, and the sudden evaporation of millions of board feet of timber in one resource area is not easily absorbed in another area that is under similar sustainable management,” the brief said.
Attorneys for the federal government said it “simply is not accurate” that timber harvests have completely ceased in the region, noting the expansion did not cancel timber sales that were already approved.
Delaying the litigation until Dec. 1 would prevent the court from wasting resources, since the Trump administration may reach a decision that “could simplify or moot the issues.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sided with the government in both cases and agreed to prolong the stay until Dec. 1, when the parties will submit a joint report on the status of the litigation.