MEDFORD, Ore. — Just as federal prisons and military bases can’t be designated as national monuments, Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument can’t spread onto land dedicated to logging, opponents claim.
An Oregon timber company is arguing the Obama administration’s 2017 expansion of the monument must be struck down in federal court because much of the new acreage consists of former Oregon & California Railroad lands reconveyed to the government and specifically devoted to timber harvest by Congress.
“The president has no authority to repurpose 40,000 acres of O&C Lands within the national monument,” said Mike Haglund, attorney for the Murphy Co., during a March 5 court hearing in Medford, Ore.
The Murphy Co.’s lawsuit is the first of three complaints challenging the expansion’s legality to have oral arguments heard before a federal judge. The other two cases are pending in federal court in Washington, D.C.
The original 53,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton and 13,000 acres were later added to it through purchases of private property.
Shortly before leaving office in 2017, President Barack Obama enlarged the monument’s boundaries by 48,000 acres.
Roughly four-fifths of those acres consisted of O&C Lands, which total more than 2.1 million acres of federal property in Western Oregon that Congress in 1937 committed to “permanent forest production.”
“The O&C Act is a dominant-use statute and that dominant use is timber production,” said Haglund.
Timber companies are upset about the prohibition against most commercial logging within the Cascade-Siskiyou National monument, while ranchers fear the expanded designation may lead to restrictions on livestock grazing.
“What the president has done here is vacate the purpose of those lands that Congress designated them for,” Haglund said.
Since 2017, the size of three timber sales has been reduced due to the expansion, he said. The Murphy Co. also fears that roads leading to its private inholdings within the monument will be decommissioned.
“Your access to your own land is impaired,” he said.
While the President Donald Trump has reduced the size of other controversial national monuments designated or enlarged under his predecessor, he hasn’t acted on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and his administration is defending its expansion in federal court.
Contrary to the Murphy Co.’s claims, there is no “irreconcilable conflict” between the monument designation and the O&C Lands Act, which permits multiple uses of such lands, said Coby Howell, an attorney for the federal government.
“Not every tree on every acre of O&C Lands needs to be cut,” Howell said. “If not every tree needs to be cut, why can’t the president set aside those 48,000 acres?”
The presidential proclamation expanding the national monument doesn’t “repurpose” those acres, which are still O&C Lands — rather, the property has a dual status, he said.
“You have the overlay of a national monument,” Howell said.
The Cascade-Siskiyou’s original original boundaries in 2000 included O&C Lands but nonetheless Congress enacted new protections in 2009, such as expiring grazing leases and creating a new wilderness area within the monument, he said.
These actions don’t indicate Congress was “outraged” by the inclusion of O&C Lands as suggested by the Murphy Co., Howell said. “If that was true, Congress could have acted.”
The Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, an environmental group that’s intervened in the case, argued that legal precedents make clear the U.S. Bureau of Land Manage can manage O&C Lands for “non-consumptive value,” said Susan Brown, an attorney for the organization.
“The BLM has discretion in how to manage these lands,” she said.
When the O&C Lands Act was passed by Congress, federal officials said the law would aid in reforestation and conservation policies, which shows it was intended to be a “multiple use law,” Brown said.
“Clearly, they weren’t just talking about timber, they were talking about other things as well,” she said.
Regarding the BLM’s current management of other O&C Lands, the practice of setting aside tracts from logging is being challenged in separate litigation in Washington, D.C., Haglund said. “You can’t have a no-harvest reserve on O&C Lands.”
It’s true that O&C Lands aren’t exclusively meant for logging, but such benefits — such as water quality and recreation — were meant to be ancillary, he said. “Those are secondary values that are complementary but subsidiary to timber production.”