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Senator Merkley Not Opposed To Owyhee Monument Designation

Last week an overwhelming majority of voters in Malheur County rejected the idea of a national monument in a corner of southeast Oregon known as the Owyhee Canyonlands, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. Ultimately, the executive branch of the federal government has authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create national monuments on federal lands.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told Think Out Loud's Dave Miller that the concerns of Malheur County residents should be taken into account when crafting a monument, if it does indeed come to pass.

"A monument is a very flexible instrument ... my team went out, and Senator Wyden's team went out and we collected a lot of points people were making, and ... I told Secretary Jewell 'We have this information, we're happy to give it to you. If you really get serious about a monument — it's out of our control in Congress, but please, it needs to address all of these issues."

Merkley said he wasn't necessarily against a monument designation.

"Quite frankly, it's when ... the executive branch goes in and establishes a monument without that dialogue with the community that creates so much dissension unnecessarily," said Merkley.

Last week's Malheur County vote is advisory only and holds no legal weight.

President Obama has not signaled that he intends to designate the Owyhee a national monument, as some conservationists have actively lobbied for. Obama has already created or expanded 19 national monuments.

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<p>Residents and conservationists disagree over what should be done to protect the Owyhee region in southeastern Oregon.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Residents and conservationists disagree over what should be done to protect the Owyhee region in southeastern Oregon.

<p>Far away from city lights, this remote corner of Southeast Oregon provides great views of the night sky.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Far away from city lights, this remote corner of Southeast Oregon provides great views of the night sky.

<p>Rancher Bob Skinner says the Owyhee is already protected, by its isolation and remoteness. "If we get a big influx of people coming in here because they shine a spotlight on it with a monument, that is what&rsquo;s going to be the problem," Skinner said.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Rancher Bob Skinner says the Owyhee is already protected, by its isolation and remoteness. "If we get a big influx of people coming in here because they shine a spotlight on it with a monument, that is what’s going to be the problem," Skinner said.

<p>Leslie Gulch in Southeastern Oregon features sheer rock walls and red rock formations.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Leslie Gulch in Southeastern Oregon features sheer rock walls and red rock formations.

<p>Cheatgrass dominates the landscape in the Owyhee. The invasive species is a problem in much of Eastern Oregon.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Cheatgrass dominates the landscape in the Owyhee. The invasive species is a problem in much of Eastern Oregon.

<p>Giant red rock formations protrude from grassy, rolling hills. Although the Owyhee is known for its canyons, the majority of the land mass in the area is high desert sagebrush country.&nbsp;</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Giant red rock formations protrude from grassy, rolling hills. Although the Owyhee is known for its canyons, the majority of the land mass in the area is high desert sagebrush country. 

Sage Van Wing