—Affected stakeholders not informed of public hearing
A public meeting was held recently in southwest Oregon to discuss a proposal from the state’s two U.S. senators asking that President Barack Obama double the size of the existing Cascade Siskiyou National Monument.
Both the proposal and the meeting came as a shock to area ranchers and government officials, most of whom were unaware that such a request had been made on their behalf. Held at the request of Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), the Oct. 14 meeting also included Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor, and was intended to allow the federal official to hear comments and gauge public support for the proposed expansion.
Originally created by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the 66,000-acre Cascade Siskiyou National Monument has long been a point of contention between environmentalists, ranchers, and loggers, all of whom share close quarters in Oregon’s southwest corner.
The proposed expansion would add another 65,000 acres of public land in both Jackson and Klamath Counties, as well as a small portion of California’s Siskiyou County.
While attendance at the meeting appeared over whelmingly in favor of expanding the monument, opponents argue that this was because key stakeholders were not told a meeting was taking place.
“There was no notice of any meeting,” says rancher Lee Bradshaw. “It was pretty underhanded.
When we did find out, we called as many people as we could, but on a Friday afternoon at 2:00, most folks are at work.”
“We got an email from Merkley’s office late on [Oct. 7], which was a Friday,” says Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallam. “We really weren’t aware of it until Monday.”
“A lot of the parties that would be directly affected were never informed at all,” he adds. “This includes our local BLM office, as well as the BLM office in Redding. I haven’t heard of any of the ranchers that got notifications.
“I would call it a very transparent attempt to keep those who would oppose (expansion) in the dark.”
Despite having little time to respond, Mallam did attend the meeting, where he says those in favor of the monument appeared much better prepared.
“I saw professionally made signs supporting the monument, and a sea of t-shirts,” he says. “That was extremely disturbing; you don’t get those made up overnight. It was very obvious that they had plenty of notice ahead of time.”
As of press time, Merkley had not responded to requests for comment. However in a letter from the senator to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell dated Oct. 4, Merkley requested her presence at the Oct. 14 meeting, and claimed that the proposal had “strong backing” from the regions elected officials, citizens, chambers of commerce, and landowners.
The reality, says Mallam, is much different than Merkley’s claim. According to Mallam, officials from two cities in the area, Ashland and Talent, have announced their support of the expansion. However, the remaining communities, as well as the county governments from all three affected counties either oppose the proposal, or were not aware of it.
“Merkley’s office has, time and again, referenced substantial support based on two small cities,” says Mallam. “It’s disturbing to say the least.”
Among the ranchers who were in attendance to speak against the monument, primary concerns centered on the potential loss of public grazing and the inclusion of private lands within the monument boundary.
“Merkley’s comment to me was that making it a monument won’t necessarily stop grazing,” says Bradshaw, whose BLM permit falls within the proposed expansion area. “But I know what the end result will be.”
For Bradshaw and other ranchers living in the shadow of the existing monument, all this has happened before.
“When the initial monument was created, they allowed grazing to continue as part of a three-year study,” explains Bradshaw. “We all knew how that was going to turn out.”
Eventually finding that grazing was incompatible with the monument, the ‘government’ offered to purchase permits from willing sellers.
“Those guys could see the writing on the wall,” says Bradshaw. “If they didn’t sell out, they were going to get regulated out. Their permits were bought out, and there’s no longer any grazing over there.”
Bradshaw believes the same scenario will be repeated if the monument is expanded.
“They’re going to find a butterfly over here, or a frog over there, and eventually, they are going to regulate you off,” he says. “If I thought there was a chance I could work with them and still be running cows up there in 10 years, I’d pursue it.”
The inclusion of private lands is an additional concern. Along with the 65,000 acres of public land, the proposed expansion boundary also includes 34,000 acres of private timber and grazing land. Expansion supporters insist that this land will remain in private hands.
Opponents, however, are quick to point out that this claim has not been borne out by circumstances on the existing monument.
When it was initially created, the monument was comprised of 86,000 acres, 52,000 of which were public lands. Since that time, approximately 15,000 additional acres have been converted to public ownership, and much of the remainder is in the hands of conservation groups, awaiting public purchase.
The reason for this, according to opponents, is constant pressure to sell using tactics such as restricted access, forcing a landowner into the position of a willing seller rather than face the legal battle required to keep their property.
According to both Mallam and Bradshaw, opponents of the monument are exploring their legal options, but with just a few months left in the Obama administration, there isn’t much time to mount a defense.
“If they’re going to do it, it’s going to happen very quickly,” says Mallam. “I don’t know that there’s any way to reverse it.”
“I just don’t understand how they can do something like this,” adds Bradshaw. “If you put it out for a vote, most of the people here would be against it. Yet here we are.”
— Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent
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