As competing court rulings play out over the future of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a group of western Oregon counties is calling for the state’s congressional delegation to swap timber land protected within the monument for other federally managed land.
The proposal came from the Association of O&C Counties (AOCC), a group of Oregon counties that encompass more than 2.4 million acres of land largely overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
A federal court ruled in November that the Obama administration illegally included O&C timber lands while expanding the monument by 48,000 acres. Approximately 40,000 of that expansion was O&C lands.
The AOCC counties are proposing to leave the monument as it is, but are asking for 81,000 acres of timber land, locked up in the monument, to be duplicated as O&C land in other parts of the state.
“All we want to do is to be made whole,” says Tim Freeman, Douglas County commissioner and president of the board of the AOCC. “Congress can do that. Congress can put these lands legally into a monument-type designation. And in doing so, they can also do a zero-net loss to the O&C.”
Freeman says their request on Congress includes the lands expanded under the Obama administration as well as 41,000 acres of O&C lands included in the original monument designated in 2000 under then-President Bill Clinton.
Opponents at the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council called the AOCC proposal a PR move.
“I think they’re looking for a fall back,” says Dave Willis, chair of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, a group defending the monument from the decision of a federal judge in Washington D.C. who last month ruled the expansion was illegal.
Willis points out an opposing September ruling from a federal judge in Oregon supporting the Obama-era expansion. Both the Washington D.C. and Oregon court decisions are under appeal.
Willis says the AOCC proposal relies on an interpretation of the O&C Act that focuses too narrowly on logging, rather than other priorities like protecting watersheds and providing recreational facilities.
“The O&C Act is a multiple-use act,” Willis says, “It’s about protecting watersheds, regulating streamflow’s, sustaining local economies. In the 21st century a local economy is a diversified economy.”
Oregon congressmen Greg Walden, R-OR, and Peter DeFazio, D-OR, did not respond to the AOCC proposal by airtime. A member of Sen. Ron Wyden’s, D-OR, office wrote that the senator will keep listening to both parties.
“A few years ago [Wyden] developed a bill that would have produced better management of the O&C lands by increasing logging and improving their environmental integrity and health. Unfortunately, some of the participants preferred continuing the legal fights over the land than supporting Senator Wyden’s legislative solution, leading to the current stalemate between two directly competing judicial rulings over O&C lands.”