DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Yes To More! Expand the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument
Although most political attention is tuned to the ongoing presidential scrum between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, President Barack Obama is hardly sitting idly on the sidelines waiting out his final three months in the White House. Nope, he is busy—and hopefully that agenda will include expanding the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument.
Often presidents’ final weeks and days can be their most productive. Freed from political bickering, it is an opportunity to cut loose and let their colors fly. As neither necessitates congressional approval, these opportunities often are expressed through pardons and designations of national monuments.
In his final days, President Bill Clinton went on a particular spree, protecting some four-plus million acres with 19 new National Monuments, including establishing the outlines for the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument. And now, President Obama has an opportunity to expand that same national monument and its protections—an act which numerous local officials and conservationists support, as does this newspaper.
Although increasingly controversial and bipartisan, the National Monument is hardly anything new. First allowed in 1906, Teddy Roosevelt designated the inaugural National Monument when he set aside protections for Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. In the past century, national monuments have been used as the starting point for several of the country’s most prized parks, including the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, all which started by presidential decree as a National Monument before being considered for expanded federal protections and funding.
The National Monument decree is an important tool for fast-track conservation measures and bypassing bickering that often has more to do with politics and practical sense. (Consider the logjam facing President Obama for other presidential actions like appointing a Supreme Court Justice.) In that light, the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument deserves immediate attention and action. At a uniquely perpendicular crossroads between two mountain ranges, the region is particular biologically rich. This value was initially recognized and partially preserved in 2000 by President Bill Clinton with the designation of 53,000 acres as a National Monument. But that swath of land was incomplete; it was more like a massive outline of the area, with missing puzzle pieces inside, as chunks of land were still held by logging companies. Over the past 16 years, many of those islands of private land have been purchased or handed over to the federal government to help fill in the entire space.
The current proposal is supported and encouraged at the federal level by both U.S. Senators from Oregon, and by the City of Talent and the City of Ashland city councils. Expanding the current territory of the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument would widely protect a unique bioregions and greatly contribute to tourism-based economy in the region, replacing dollars that left after the timber industry collapsed a quarter-century ago in the region.
President Obama has been generous and energized about conservation measures, already creating or expanding 25 national monuments, amounting to an additional 4 million acres of U.S. territory protected because of its cultural or biological importance. In late August, President Obama designed nearly 90,000 acres of Maine’s northern woods as a National Monument to be added to the U.S. park system—an act that was completely free to taxpayers because the land was donated by the family who founded Burt’s Bees, and included a $20 million trust fund for its protection. President Obama also added immensely to a national marine monument which President George W. Bush established a decade ago to protect some 7000 species of fish.
Several other regions of the country also are hoping that President Obama will tap their backyards for national monument designations, including two million acres to protect Bears Ears in southern Utah, a stunningly beautiful area and one full of Native American artifacts. Another area is 150 miles south from Cape Cod and underwater; known as the New England Coral Canyons, it is a dramatic range of submarine canyons.
But the beauty of the National Monument is that President Obama does not need to choose just one place to protect. We hope that President Obama does expand the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument in the upcoming weeks—and urge our regional elected officials and residents to continue to provide support and persuasion why this is important—for economic reasons, for biological reasons and for preserving the landscape that makes America great.