Sensitive flora and fauna in southern Oregon and northern California could get additional protections under a proposal to expand the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. The public had a chance to voice their opinions in Ashland Friday afternoon.
More than 400 people crammed into an auditorium at Southern Oregon University to discuss the proposal.
Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are proposing to double the size of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument from about 66,000 acres to more than 130,000. The area is at the crossroad of several major ecosystems and is valued for its exceptional biodiversity. Supporters argue restricting land use will protect sensitive species as they adapt to climate change.
Dr. Pepper Trail was on the science team that evaluated the area for additional protections.
"Based on a foundation of solid science," he said,"now is the time for expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to enable spatially comprehensive, cohesive and consistent protection of this unique and precious landscape."
Elected officials from Jackson, Klamath and Siskiyou Counties criticized the proposal. They fear the expansion would hinder ranching, farming, timber harvest and other economic activity.
Ashland resident Steve Richie is a Republican candidate for a seat in the Oregon legislature. He said the plan would unfairly shut people out.
"Further restrictions only deny citizens and taxpayers the opportunities they have had to hunt, camp and recreate," he said.
A national monument designation, or expansion, has to be authorized by the president.
After the meeting, Senator Merkley noted that Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor was sitting with him during the public testimony.
"I wanted to make sure, absolutely sure, that the president’s team heard directly from the citizens with the full spectrum of thoughts," he said. "And I think that was largely heard today."
Merkley said that unlike wilderness designations, national monument rules are flexible and can be designed in a variety of ways to accommodate local concerns.
If President Obama is going to sign off on expanding the monument, he’s going to have to do it quickly. He leaves office on January 20th.