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California awaits uncertain fate for national monuments

The Milky Way viewed through the trees in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.(Photo: David Hoffmann)

When it comes to national monuments, California is hoping it won’t suffer a fate similar to Utah’s.

President Trump recently signed orders to reduce the size of two Utah national monuments. But will there be others?

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was the only one in California that Zinke urged be cut in size.

California had seven national monuments under review by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Last year, Trump ordered Zinke to review national monuments that were established from 1996 to present and were larger than 100,000 acres or were “made without adequate public consultation.”

One of them is the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles California and Oregon. It has relatively small acreage in California, but it has captured attention because it was the only one in California that Zinke urged be cut in size.

In his report, the secretary also suggested reviewing another national monument in California – the Castle Mountains National Monument, which is about 21,000 acres of land east of the Mojave National Preserve, near the border with Nevada. Zinke cited an issue with the monument’s prohibition on hunting while the neighboring preserve allows it.

Cascade-Siskiyou is located between the 1.7-million-acre Klamath National Forest and Crater Lake National Park.

No final actions or specific reductions have yet been announced for either monuments.

Cascade-Siskiyou is the second smallest of the 27 national monuments that Zinke reviewed in his December report.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to reduce when the monument is this small,” said Dave Willis from the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council. “These very few acres benefit two areas.”

Cascade-Siskiyou is located between the 1.7-million-acre Klamath National Forest and Crater Lake National Park.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton designated about 53,000 acres in this area along Interstate 5 and the Oregon-California line as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It grew to more than 113,000 acres as the Bureau of Land Management received land donations and President Barrack Obama designated another 47,600 acres in 2016. Of the total, Cascade-Siskiyou has about 5,000 acres in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown, both of California’s U.S. senators and the state Legislature have voiced their support for California’s national monuments. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said she will take legal action if the monument is reduced or rescinded.

At more than 330,780 acres, Berryessa Snow Mountain is about three times the size of Cascade-Siskiyou.

“An attack on one national monument is an attack on all monuments,” said Bob Schneider, treasurer of the Woodland, Calif.-based Tuleyome conservation group. “These (monuments) are really good for local economies, but people need some kind of security that some President’s not going to take that away,” Schneider said.

Schneider’s organization successfully worked to have President Obama designate Berryessa Snow Mountain as a national monument in 2015.

Schneider’s group advocates for preserving Berryessa Snow Mountain, which is west of Davis and Zinke did not recommended that it be reduced. At more than 330,780 acres, Berryessa Snow Mountain is about three times the size of Cascade-Siskiyou.

“They’re (Trump administration officials) looking at where there’s timber, coal resources. That’s the point of the review,” Schneider said.

Cascade-Siskiyou was the first national monument designated specifically to support biodiversity. But Shannon Browne from the Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument said biodiversity can be hard to explain to people.

In one excursion, Browne said the group found more than 130 different species of butterflies.

“When you try to protect biodiversity, it’s hard to define,” Browne said. “Biodiversity is very abstract.”

In addition to offering grants to students doing research in the area, Browne’s group holds hike-and-learns and programs for K-12 students to tour the national monument.

In one excursion, Browne said the group found more than 130 different species of butterflies.

She said the biodiversity also extends to plants as the coast, dry chaparral and mountain vegetation all converge there.

Before becoming a national monument, the land has been used for grazing and logging, but in recent years some ranchers and timber companies have sold their land or grazing rights.

Logging companies found the trees had more value upright than anything else, Willis said, and they sold their interests to conservation groups who gave them to the Bureau of Land Management.

“Some people have an idea that it’s continuous land of pristine land, but it’s not.” — Dave Willis

But there are still a number of privately owned land holdings within the national monument, a point Zinke made in his report.

“The boundary should be revised through the use of appropriate authority, including lawful exercise of your discretion granted by the Act, in order to address impacts on private lands,” Zinke wrote, adding that it might not be legal to claim a national monument on land permanently set aside for forest protection under the Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act of 1937.

Willis, who lives on private property within the national monument boundary, said this is not uncommon.

“Some people have an idea that it’s continuous land of pristine land,” Willis said, “but it’s not.”

He said many people enjoy living next to a national monument and, in fact, some move there specifically to do so.

Willis said about 99 percent of the 2.8 million public comments to Zinke’s national monuments review were in favor of protecting or enlarging the monuments.

Meanwhile, both Willis and Browne said a major hindrance to keeping the lands listed as national monuments is the amount of misinformation surrounding the designation.

“Some say the BLM is going to steal your land and there’s not a bit of truth to it,” Willis said.

As they await word on potential  changes, Browne said they will continue to tell people, newspapers and the administration that the monuments are vital to their economy and the public supports the national monuments.

The other national monuments in California Zinke reviewed but did not make recommendations on were the Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and San Gabriel Mountains.


  • Diane Newell Meyer

    I believe that the proposed reduction of the CSNM was also a favor to Congressman Greg Walden, a trump pet.

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