Monday, November 07, 2016

Oregon's Owyhee Canyonlands are focus of monumental debate

Everybody with a vested interest in the Owyhee Canyonlands feels the same about the land: It's beautiful. It's spiritual. It's a special place that deserves our respect. Their disagreement stems from a philosophical divide: How should we respect this wild desert along the southeast Oregon border? Should we preserve it solely as a pristine natural wonder? Or should we utilize its natural resources to support the local community? Both sides say they're open to compromise - a process that has been hammered out on public lands for more than a century - but have instead found themselves embroiled in a bitter battle that dives headlong into land-use politics, and divides Oregonians into two stubborn camps. Behind the slogans and beyond the talking points, there are people with real fears and real frustrations. Their feelings mirror a much bigger conversation about federal land management in the 21st century - recently amplified by the occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge - but for now they're focused on Owyhee, a vast and beautiful piece of southeast Oregon. What makes a monument? The national monument designation is designed to protect historically, culturally or environmentally important areas with some flexibility. Federal land managers typically allow existing mines, timber harvests and grazing allotments to continue on monuments, but ban any new projects from starting up. Currently, two proposals are being considered in Oregon: the proposed 2.5-million-acre Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument, and a 65,000-acre expansion of the existing Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, originally established by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Both would be big wins for conservationists, but big opposition stands in their way. Owyhee under threat There is significant mining potential in Malheur County, according to a recent report by the Oregon Department of Geological and Mineral Industries, but it's unclear whether mining within the boundaries of the monument would be economically feasible. A spokeswoman for the department said while mining might be feasible, "the economic potential remains to be studied." According to department records, there are already four active mines within the proposed monument - two for industrial minerals and two for gemstones - and four more just outside it. That's a cause for concern among environmentalists, who don't trust the industry to leave well enough alone. And while the oil and gas industry hasn't drilled a well in Malheur County since 1962, landowners around the county have signed oil and gas leases over the last few years in anticipation. No new wells have been actually approved, but it's enough to raise a big red flag for the people trying to protect the Owyhee...more

The only immanent threats mentioned in this article are mining and possibly oil & gas drilling.
Do you need a National Monument designation to protect this area from these two uses?
The answer is NO!
If the administration truly felt the resource warranted protection from these uses, they can implement an administrative withdrawal from all forms of mining and energy leasing using their authority in Section 204 [43 U.S.C. 1714] of FLPMA. This can provide protection for up to twenty years.
For permanent protection Congress can pass a legislative withdrawal from all forms of mining and energy leasing.
Under either scenario, the lands are protected, while the surface uses remain the same.

Federal land managers typically allow existing mines, timber harvests and grazing allotments to continue on monuments, but ban any new projects from starting up.
This is written as if the land managers have flexibility in making these choices.  They don't.  They must comply with the management language in the Presidential Proclamation. One person, the President, determines whether mining, timber harvests, grazing, roads, etc. will continue, and if so, under what guidelines and conditions.  

The Antiquities Act allows existing allotments to be grandfathered in, but local ranchers simply don't trust the government to honor that agreement.
That is not correct. The Antiquities Act does not even mention livestock grazing. Again, whether livestock grazing is banned, limited or continues as currently practiced is completely up to the President and whatever language he chooses to insert in the Presidential Proclamation creating the monument. The land managers then implement that language. And, the grazing language can vary widely from one proclamation to the next. Look at the different grazing languages in these two recent proclamations by President Obama, here and here.  See my comments on the differences in these grazing languages here. Also see my comments on livestock grazing language in National Monument designation here and here.

And remember, the Presidential Proclamation is not put out as a draft inviting public comment. What one person - the President - says is determined without public hearings or input and is final.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is a comment from personal experience about archeologists and livestock grazing: An archeologist was shown some pectographs on some low lying rock in a pasture. Pectographs which had been there for more than 700 years, subjected to all types of natural and unnatural occurrences including brush conversion projects, probable buffalo herds, and uncounted livestock hooves. But believe it or not they showed no damage, were completely legible and preserved for future interest and study. But the archeologist demanded and received a barbed wire fence be built around the site to prevent any damage to the site in the future.
So much for common sense!