Late last Friday, local and partner conservation groups intervened in two lawsuits to protect the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument from challenges brought by timber interests. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is one of the most biodiverse places in North America.
Originally designated by President Clinton in 2000, President Obama expanded the monument in January 2017. It is the first and only national monument specifically established to protect biological diversity. In 2015, 85 scientists concerned about increasing threats to the area signed a letter urging monument expansion to better protect and connect important habitats for the monument’s spectacular variety of plants and animals “whose survival in the region,” according the monument’s original proclamation, “depends upon its continued ecological integrity.”
In addition to hosting an exceptional range of flora and fauna, the monument area is an important Pacific Northwest biological connectivity corridor enabling species to move back and forth between the Siskiyou Mountains, globally recognized for their botanical diversity, and the southern Cascade Range.
“This ecologically strategic Cascade-Siskiyou biological corridor has been an unraveling thread,” said Dave Willis, chair of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. “The original monument helped slow the unraveling, but continuing threats have only increased with time. The recent monument expansion was smaller than scientists recommended. A reversal or reduction of the monument expansion would be tragic.”
The Association of O&C Counties and Murphy Company, an Oregon timber business, filed separate lawsuits in DC and Oregon federal courts, alleging that monument expansion is precluded by an obscure federal land management law from 1937. The two lawsuits hope to strip protection of the “towering fir forests, sunlit oak groves, wildflower-strewn meadows, and steep canyons” described in the monument’s original proclamation as “an ecological wonder.”
“These two lawsuits are an attempt to rob Oregonians and all Americans of a biological treasure deserving of permanent protection,” said Susan Jane Brown, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center.
The mayors, city councils, and chamber of commerce boards of the two closest towns to the monument, Ashland and Talent, unanimously endorsed the monument expansion’s recreation and quality-of-life benefits as strengthening the region’s diversifying economy. Landowners representing more than 14,000 acres of adjacent private land in the expansion area also supported the larger monument, as did the local state legislators in whose districts the original monument was located, the Klamath Tribes, Oregon’s Gov. Brown, and Oregon Sens. Wyden and Merkley.
“The local support for protecting the special forests and watersheds of these mountains by those who live in and around the Monument is overwhelming,” said George Sexton, conservation director for KS Wild. “These public lands belong to all of us, not just to those who want to log them for a quick buck.”
Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, and The Wilderness Society are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice in the cases.