Courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM
The Trump administration has agreed to resume litigation over the expansion of Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on Jan. 15 unless the dispute is resolved beforehand.
The monument’s size was increased from about 66,000 acres to 114,000 acres by the Obama administration in early 2017, spurring several lawsuits against the proclamation.
When the Trump administration decided to reconsider the expansion, those lawsuits were stayed by a federal judge pending the potential reduction of the monument’s boundaries. On Dec. 5, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released recommendations for revising the Cascade-Siskiyou’s borders to “address issues” related to O&C Lands and commercial logging.
However, the recommendations did not specify the number or location of the acres involved.
Two plaintiffs — the Association of O&C Counties and the American Forest Resource Council — say they have grown impatient with the delay.
The groups recently attempted to revive the active litigation of their lawsuits but have now agreed to the Jan. 15 deadline as long as the Trump administration seeks no further postponements.
The American Forest Resource Council hopes the president takes executive action scaling back the monument before that date, said Travis Joseph, the group’s executive director.
However, AFRC won’t be easily satisfied: Unless the monument’s boundaries are revised to entirely exclude so-called O&C Lands, which are dedicated to timber production, the group won’t drop its lawsuit, he said.
Congress enacted the O&C Act to make those federal lands permanently available to logging, so the president’s authority to create national monuments under the Antiquities Act doesn’t override that statute, Joseph said.
“The O&C Act applies to all of the acres by the plain meaning of the law,” he said. “It’s not about the specifics of the designation. It’s about the law.”
If a president were allowed to wipe out such decisions made by Congress, it would have “extraordinary implications for land management in the Western U.S.,” Joseph said.
The prolonged interruption of the litigation has been frustrating because the plaintiffs want to delve into the merits of the case as soon as possible, said Rocky McVay, executive director of the Association of O&C Counties.
“Timber sales that were in the works in the expanded area have been canceled,” McVay said.
While commercial logging within the national monument is banned, the expanded designation is also troublesome for ranchers who fear grazing curtailments within its boundaries.
It’s unclear what the Trump administration’s drastic reduction of two Utah national monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — may foreshadow for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, McVay said.
Environmental groups are already lining up to file lawsuits against that action, he said. “There will be a lot of fallout from this decision.”
The circumstances surrounding each national monument under review by the Trump administration are unique, said Joseph.
That’s particularly true for the Cascade-Siskiyou, which is the only monument containing lands devoted to timber harvest by statute, he said. “That legal conflict doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country.”