What others say: Courts will have final say on national monument

  • By The Medford (Oregon) Mail Tribune editorial
  • Wednesday, September 6, 2017 9:31am
  • Opinion

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has sent to President Donald Trump his recommendations on the future of 27 national monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, but the details of those recommendations remain a mystery.

Neither the Interior Department nor the White House has seen fit to release to the public the recommendations regarding the public land protected by those monuments.

Thanks to reporting by The Washington Post, citing sources who have seen Zinke’s recommendations, we know that the Interior secretary is recommending reductions in the Cascade-Siskiyou in Southern Oregon and Northern California and at least two others — Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah. We don’t know how extensive those reductions might be.

President Bill Clinton established the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to protect the unique biodiversity found where three mountain ranges intersect. Early this year, President Barack Obama expanded the monument boundaries in response to concerns from scientists that the original boundaries were not large enough to preserve the connectivity between species habitats.

What Trump will do with the recommendations also remains unknown. What is certain is that any action to shrink monuments will be challenged and ultimately decided in the courts.

Presidents have the power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create national monuments. In a limited number of cases, none of them in recent years, presidents have altered the boundaries of existing monuments, but none of those actions were challenged in court. Congress clearly has the power to change public land uses and alter monuments, but legal experts disagree on whether a president has the power to undo a designation implemented by a predecessor.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum already has said the state will challenge any attempt to reduce the Cascade-Siskiyou monument. Supporters of the Utah monuments are likely to challenge any changes to those as well.

The Cascade-Siskiyou already faces a court challenge to the expansion decreed by President Obama in January.

Timber industry representatives and Oregon counties that historically have received a share of timber revenue from former Oregon &California railroad lands have sued, claiming the Antiquities Act cannot supersede the O&C Act, in which Congress ordered that O&C lands managed for timber production.

Both the original monument and the expansion include some O&C land.

The monument enjoys widespread support from Oregon’s two U.S. senators, the governor and many state residents. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and local county commissioners opposed its creation and expansion, and ranchers, hunters and timber industry supporters argue the monument limits public use of the land.

Opponents have said the monument was expanded without adequate public involvement. But Zinke’s refusal to release his recommendations prevents the public from evaluating them.

If Zinke believes the monument designation didn’t serve the public interest, he should be willing to have a public discussion about that. And he and President Trump should prepare for a lengthy court battle, because that is where the future of the monument ultimately will be decided.

— The Medford Mail Tribune,

Aug. 27

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