Bush administration backs monuments
04/25/02MICHELLE COLE, The Oregonian
The Bush administration will not challenge 17 national monuments that former President Clinton designated, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon.
Instead, the Interior Department announced plans Wednesday to proceed with management plans that will guide the myriad activities on monument lands, including recreation, road closures, grazing and fire suppression.
Agency officials promised that the plans would be developed with "maximum input" from local residents, many of whom complained bitterly about being ignored when the monuments were established.
"While I share concerns about the way in which these monuments were created, it's our job now to see that we develop land-use plans in an open, inclusive and comprehensive way," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Wednesday.
Citing its ecological and geological treasures, Clinton designated 52,947 acres of federally owned land near Ashland as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in June 2000. The federal Bureau of Land Management was ready to release a Cascade-Siskiyou draft management plan last spring when Norton ordered it held pending comment by state and local officials.
Clinton's proclamation establishing the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument withdrew the area from further mineral exploration, prohibited logging except for ecological restoration, closed a road used by all-terrain vehicles and launched a study of the impact of grazing.
Elsewhere in the West, newly designated monuments have sparked hot debate about mining, natural gas, geothermal energy development and off-road vehicle use.
Oregon conservationists were dismayed last summer when Jackson County commissioners sent Norton a proposal to shrink the monument to 16,580 acres. They said that would address concerns of property owners who hold a checkerboard of private lands inside the monument boundaries.
Conservationists continued to voice concern Wednesday, although the administration said it has no plans to shrink the monument.
"We believe they're going to give county commissioners a special place at the table and a special ear to a minority of folks who were and are against protection of these monuments," said Dave Willis of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council.
The Interior Department said local input might take the form of citizen advisory councils or other local collaborative groups.
Jackson County Commissioner Sue Kupillas said she welcomes the administration's pledge to include local communities in management decisions. "I hope it means they will involve local environmental groups, ranchers, forestry people, as well as community members who recreate on those lands."
Of the national monuments Clinton set up during his final two years in office, the Cascade-Siskiyou's management plan is among those furthest along in the process. A draft plan is at the printer and should be released for public comment by late May, the Interior Department said. A final management plan could take a year or more to complete.
Dave Alberswerth, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C., said he's glad to see the process go forward on Cascade-Siskiyou and the other national monuments. "But the government's emphasis seems to be on use, use, use, rather than protection, protection, protection."
Larry Finfer, an Interior Department spokesman, said all interest groups would be invited to share their views on monument management. And, he said, protecting the resources is a high priority.
"The BLM looks on this as a high-profile opportunity to show that we can manage for excellence," Finfer said. "We know that there's a lot of local and national interest in this, and that everyone is watching."
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