MEDFORD — While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was in Oregon earlier last month, he met with O&C County Commissioners to discuss the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the loss of timber revenue.

In January, President Obama signed off on a 48,000–acre expansion to the monument that lies on the Oregon and California border.

The Association of O&C counties, which represents 18 counties in Western Oregon, spoke out against the expansion, arguing it would further restrict logging on lands that provide revenue for the cash-strapped counties.

President Trump signed an executive order in April calling for a review of all designations of national monuments created since 1996 that are greater than 100,000 acres.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was on the list.

Tim Freeman, President of the Association of O&C counties, said he was encouraged that the Trump administration is interested in rural Oregon.

“The first thing I would tell you I was very excited that somebody asked the association of Oregon counties what our opinion was,” Freeman said.

He said when the monument was originally expanded, the O&C counties’ voices weren’t heard.

The Association of O&C counties sued, but agreed to a 90-day stay while the monument is under review.

Freeman said the counties’ concern is unique, because it’s a legal argument rather than one about biodiversity.

Commissioners at the meeting with Zinke pointed to a 1940 decision by a former U.S. solicitor general that said the president could not convert O&C lands to a national monument. The decision was a response to a proposal by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to add some O&C lands to the Oregon Caves National Monument.

After the meeting with Zinke, Freeman said he was encouraged.

“I’m grateful that the association of O&C counties had our concerns heard,” Freeman said.

Congressman Greg Walden and commissioners from Klamath, Jackson, Josephine and Polk counties were in attendance at the July 16 meeting. 

The monument’s expanded boundaries lock up around 40,000 acres of O&C land, restricting timber harvests. That could create economic impacts on all 18 O&C counties, because regardless of where the trees are cut, the money generated is given out based on the percentage of O&C land that a county has.

Coos County received $1.1 million in timber-based payments from the BLM for O&C lands last year. The O&C lands are federal lands formerly owned by the Oregon and California Railroads.

Zinke also met with Gov. Kate Brown during his visit.

"The future of Oregon’s federal public lands and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument gives me great concern, as I know it does for many Oregonians,"  Brown said in a prepared statement, "Oregonians have a long tradition of environmental stewardship and deep appreciation for our public lands, and I will make sure the voices of Oregonians are heard by Secretary Zinke and the federal administration.”

Brown and Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have urged the Trump Administration to protect the full Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, according to an AP report.

The U.S. Department of Interior is responsible for overseeing the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service.

Freeman said Zinke would make his recommendations for the monument on Aug. 24.

Reach Saphara Harrell at (541) 269-1222 ext. 239 or by email at saphara.harrell@theworldlink.com

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