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A second U.S. appeals court affirms expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

 Looking across a blue lake with evergreen trees along the shore. There's a large, snow-capped mountain in the distance taking up 2/3rds of the photo. An eagle flies above the trees.
Kyle Sullivan
Mount McLoughlin as seen from Hyatt Lake in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, June 21, 2020

Timber companies faced another blow in court this week, after a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon.

The decision on Tuesday rejects claims by the timber trade group American Forest Resource Council that expansion of the monument in 2017 conflicts with laws requiring the government to set aside land for timber production.

The ruling is a win for environmental groups, that have sought to protect this incredibly diverse region from logging. The monument lies on the intersection of the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges.

This court ruling is similar to another decision by the 9th Circuit Court in April. That lawsuit was filed by the Oregon-based timber company Murphy, which made similar arguments.

In both cases, the courts said the government is well within its power to protect these lands from timber harvesting. The appellate judges stated that under the 1916 Oregon and California Lands Act, the government isn't solely required to use O&C Lands for timber harvest. And that the act allows the government to use such public lands for “protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facil[i]ties."

The D.C. Circuit Court said because the monument protects the watershed and provides recreational opportunities, it meets some of the aspects of the O&C Act. They said the Secretary of the Interior has discretion to decide how the land should be managed for "permanent forest production."

The court ruling also said that the expansion of the monument was modest, noting it accounts for less than 2% of the more than two million acres of O&C lands. The court concluded that because of this, the expansion shouldn't have a major effect on the ability of the government to manage the rest of those lands for timber production.

The monument was established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton and is the first one established specifically to protect the region’s unique biodiversity.

In response, the American Forest Resource Council said the court hasn't resolved questions about who makes the laws impacting federal lands, and how much authority the president has to override federal law and Congress. It said it intends to, "Continue moving forward until these fundamental questions are answered."

A request was filed by Murphy in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month seeking another hearing in front of a larger panel of judges.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.