JORDAN VALLEY, Ore. — The president’s recent creation of a national monument in Maine, despite local opposition, has Malheur County residents concerned.
Ranchers and other Malheur County residents formed the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition this year to fight a proposed 2.5-million acre national monument in an area of the county known as the Owyhee Canyonlands.
Malheur County residents voted 9-1 earlier this year in opposition to the proposal, which is being pushed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, an environmental group in Bend, and Portland’s Keen Footwear.
Monument opponents believe supporters will ask President Barack Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the Malheur County monument.
On Aug 24, Obama declared 87,500 acres of land in northeast Maine as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Residents who live near that site also opposed that plan, as did the state’s governor, legislature and congressional delegation, according to the Washington Post.
“It does heighten the concern he’s going to do it,” Jordan Valley rancher Mark Mackenzie said about the Maine declaration.
The two cases are not entirely the same. The Maine parcel was gifted to the government by the founder of the Bert’s Bees product line, while the site of the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument is already controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
Even though the Maine monument involved private land “and had a little different twist to it, I didn’t sleep very well that night,” Mackenzie said.
Opponents worry a monument designation would severely impact the county’s No. 1 industry, ranching, as well as mining, hunting and recreation because of restrictions and regulations that would come along with it.
“Of course the national monument in Maine is causing concern,” Malheur County rancher Sean Cunningham told Capital Press in an email.
He said a lot of his operation’s recent business decisions are taking into consideration “whether our backyard becomes a monument and how that’ll affect our daily operations.”
After the OBSC ran a TV ad on MSNBC in the Portland region during the Democratic National Convention urging people to oppose the proposed national monument, its membership increased by about 2,500 in 10 days, said Mackenzie, who is a member of the OBSC board of directors.
Membership now stands at 8,100 and the coalition has also started producing videos that feature people who live near where the monument would be located explaining in their own words why it would be a bad idea.
Malheur County rancher and OBSC board member Elias Eiguren said putting a face on the coalition’s message makes it more personal and allows people to understand that what would happen would affect real people.
“I think as more people see those videos ... it will bring more awareness to what’s going on,” he said.
If the proposed national monument is created, it won’t be because people didn’t know about the local opposition to it, said Malheur County Farm Bureau President Jeana Hall.
“The Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition has done a great job of voicing Malheur County’s opinion on this and making sure (people) know where we stand,” she said.