After recommending pulling public land out of two National Monuments in Utah, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has his eyes on another monument reduction – this one in Southwest Oregon.
Zinke is recommending a reduction of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, currently comprised of 113,000 acres. Much of the area to be removed from the National Monument is in the 40,000 acre former Oregon and California Railroad Land (called the “O&C Lands”). Much of this land was added when President Obama enlarged its size just before leaving office.
Timber harvest is cited as one reason for removing the land from the additional protections provided by National Monument status.
“Local concerns were ignored. Worse yet, the law was ignored. Commercial timber harvesting is specifically forbidden,” within the monument, stated Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman. Freeman is also President of the Association of O&C Counties (AOCC).
“The O&C Counties are already reeling from two decades of federal mismanagement of the O&C lands and a reduction of almost 90 percent in revenues from shared timber harvest receipts. Counties struggle to provide even minimally acceptable levels of public services,” Freeman said, referencing President Obama’s steps to increase the size of Cascade Siskiyou.
According to AOCC, the O&C Act requires the Bureau of Land Management to produce timber “under the principles of sustained yield forestry.” Counties receive 50 percent of revenues from O&C timber harvests and use the funding to pay for essential public services, such as public safety, law enforcement and public health programs.
The O&C Lands are thousands of forested acres in Western Oregon formerly owned by the defunct railroad. AOCC, and other partners in the timber industry, have sued the federal government, saying the monument expansion violates their legal right to continue collecting revenues through the logging of those O&C lands. The O&C Act is federal legislation passed in the 1930s that transferred the railroad lands into public ownership and created the legal requirements.
Oregon’s State Employment Department reports the forestry and logging industry has experienced a slow but cyclical decline that began in the early 1990s. From 1990 to 2000, private sector forestry and logging declined from 15,774 jobs statewide to 12,887, a loss of 2,887 jobs or 18 percent. Employment dropped again during the Great Recession and has experienced slow growth since the recovery. Land use policy is only one influence on employment, however. The report notes that other factors are price and market trends, as well as automation.
Alongside the argument for reducing the size of Cascade Siskiyou, though, is a local effort in favor of expansion. Bruce Sargent, owner of Buckhorn Springs Retreat Center, supports the Monument’s new size and protections from logging. His business is dependent on the unique forests and ecology of the bioregion.
“I have found a lot of solace or rejuvenation, I could go on and on, by getting out onto land, that I know is preserved, particularly land that humans haven’t had an impact on,” Sargent said.
A larger Cascade Siskiyou is also supported by the two nearest towns to the site. The rural communities of Ashland and Talent, Oregon, for instance, have supported Monument expansion, as have the local Chambers of Commerce. Oregon’s governor and both U. S. senators favor monument expansion.
Headwaters Economics, a nonpartisan research group, has studied the economic trends of communities near public lands in the West. They found that Jackson County, Oregon, saw strong growth during 2001-2015 in the service sector, with the number of jobs increasing by 14%. The number of traditional jobs in sectors like agriculture and mining fell slightly, a 4% decrease. Jackson County, which contains the Cascade Siskiyou region, saw above average growth in population and income. A separate Headwaters report documents a positive correlation between public lands and a county’s economic performance.
Cascade-Siskiyou was the first Monument created because of its “biodiversity,” a rich hotspot where rain forests, dry pine forests and alpine grasslands converge. The Monument was originally created in 2000 by President Clinton.
National Monument designation is one tool that presidents have used since Teddy Roosevelt to wade into the land management debate. Monument designation can be used for historic preservation, to save Native American cultural resources, to steer commercial development, and to limit the impact of activities such as mining. Protections are specific to each monument, and multi-use protections are the norm for the Western states’ largest monuments. The Cascade-Siskiyou Monument allows continued grazing permits, but limits timber harvest because of the biodiversity mandate. Fishing, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling, and other outdoor recreation activities are permitted.
With monument designation, rural communities like Ashland and Talent in the Cascade Siskiyou region often look to cash in on tourism as a critical economic driver. The outdoor recreation economy supports 7.6 million American jobs and $887 billion in consumer spending annually, according to the annual report from the Outdoor Industry Association. The industry generated $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue in 2016. The recreation economy is larger than key economic sectors of education, gasoline and fuels, motor vehicle, and pharmaceuticals.
Oregon’s Senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, recently joined 33 Senators calling on Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to help solve the funding gap of local education and services in rural counties by including a two-year Secure Rural Schools funding package in any year-end budget outcome. SRS supports public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services, and many other essential county services for more than 775 counties across the country.
As previously reported in the Daily Yonder, the Secure Rural Schools funding provides lump-sum payments to rural communities without property tax revenues due to large volumes of federal land. Funding is provided through an annual appropriation process in Congress. No program funding has been provided since 2016. Without SRS, existing revenue-sharing payments are not sufficient to support critical services these counties must provide.