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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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BLM Logs the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as the Supreme Court Affirms its Designation

The Monument Affirmed!

On March 25, 2024 after years of litigation, the Supreme Court declined to take up the timber industry’s case against the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The decision by the highest court in the land to not take up this case, in turn, upheld two appeals court decisions, finding that the use of the Antiquities Act on O&C lands in Western Oregon was both lawful and appropriate, thus upholding the designation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Established in 2000 by President Clinton, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was the first national monument designated to protect biodiversity. Originally designated as a 53,000 acre monument, the Obama Administration expanded the area to its current size, 113,820 acres, in 2017. The monument currently includes the convergence of the Cascade Mountains and the Siskiyou Mountains, but fails to adequately protect the Siskiyou Crest, which acts as the axis for biodiversity on the West Coast, and as one of the most important connectivity and climate migration corridors in the Pacific Northwest.

Pilot Rock and the surrounding area in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area was included in the original Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It remains one of the most iconic features in the region.

Although, many believe the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is still not big enough, the timber industry and their supporters, Murphy Timber Company, American Forest Resource Council, and the Association of O&C Counties, sued the federal government claiming the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument  constituted government overreach, and that the government could not protect O&C lands from widespread commercial logging.

Fortunately, the courts disagreed and affirmed that O&C lands could be protected to meet the O&C Act’s multiple use objectives, including uses other than timber production. These uses include “protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities.” The court affirmed that the O&C Act must be harmonized with other subsequent laws and regulations and that the Antiquities Act can be used to protect O&C lands. In fact, under the O&C Act, BLM has both the discretion, and an obligation to decide where conservation, recreation and timber production might occur on these lands.

The appeals court ruling found the monument expansion to be “consistent with the O&C Act because the act does not mandate that every acre of O&C land be classified as timberland, and even for land that is so classified, the Act does not mandate that every acre be used solely for logging. Instead, the O&C Act contemplates a flexible concept of sustained yield management that permits the BLM to consider conservation values in making timber harvest decisions.”

BLM Logging Implemented in the Monument

A large 40″ diameter tree felled along East Hyatt Lake Road in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Ironically, while the court system was affirming the importance of  conservation in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the legality of its most recent expansion area, the BLM was working directly to undermine its biological values, undercut the agency’s commitment to biodiversity and habitat connectivity in the area, and log the region in any way they think they can. Like a condolence gift to the timber industry, the BLM quietly offered up multiple commercial logging projects within the Monument without public comment, public notification, or public analysis regarding the consistency of the proposed actions, or their environmental effects. BLM began authorizing logging operations in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in four separate locations: around Hyatt Lake, in one of the area’s most popular recreation areas and campgrounds, on South Chinquapin Mountain Road, and on isolated BLM parcels on Emigrant Creek Road.

I recently visited these logging sites and found significant damage to monument resources. This includes the logging of large, old, living trees and snags over 40″ diameter logged along East Hyatt Lake Road, in Wildcat Campground and in the  Horse Camp at Hyatt Lake. In fact, the majority of the burn piles stacked in the area contain branches from the felled trees that were filled with green limbs, demonstrating that mostly live trees were felled, decked and removed for commercial purposes. Hundreds of trees were removed along a little over 2 miles of East Hyatt Lake Road and in the campgrounds on Hyatt Lake’s eastern shoreline. The damage to recreational resources and old forests within a monument designated “Old-Growth Emphasis Area,” is both appalling and entirely unnecessary.

Large tree logging near Wildcat Campground.

BLM also essentially clearcut the roadside in many locations along nearly a half mile of South Chinquapin Mountain Road, between the Greensprings Inn and Hyatt Lake, and along sections of BLM land overlapping Emigrant Creek Road.  Especially along South Chinquapin Mountain Road, the understory was completely denuded, the soils heavily disturbed by tractor logging, and the ground absolutely covered in logging slash. Hundreds of trees were removed in both locations, including the felling and removal of large, old, living trees and snags over 40″ diameter. In many cases, the actual outcome of logging operations very closely resembles clearcut logging, leaving almost no overstory canopy and large openings with hundreds of stumps.

According to the Presidential Proclamation designating the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, “The commercial harvest of timber or other vegetative material is prohibited, except when part of an authorized science-based ecological restoration project aimed at meeting protection and old growth enhancement objectives. Any such project must be consistent with the purposes of this proclamation. No portion of the monument shall be considered to be suited for timber production, and no part of the monument shall be used in a calculation or provision of a sustained yield of timber. Removal of trees from within the monument area may take place only if clearly needed for ecological restoration and maintenance or public safety.”

Log decks near the Hyatt Lake Horse Camp.

In this case, no analysis or determination has been produced to demonstrate compliance with the proclamation, no science-based ecological restoration project was authorized, and the logging most certainly did not meet protection and old growth enhancement objectives. Instead, BLM claims to have authorized these logging projects under an overly broad Categorical Exclusion (CX) for the removal of “individual or small groups” of trees for safety. According to this CX, trees over 36″ DBH and over 156 years of age must be left as downed wood, yet many were removed during these inappropriate logging operations. The CX also notes that most projects authorized under its authority would be implemented “in a few hours,” and “in limited instances work may take several days to complete.” It also notes that larger project areas would require additional analysis and authorization under a “separate NEPA analysis.”

The logging that took place in the monument was clearly implemented on a larger scale than this CX authorizes. None of these projects were implemented “in a few hours,” all took more than a few days to fell, yard, pile slash, and transport logs, and none of these projects targeted individual trees or small groups of trees as the CX requires. Each of these projects should have required additional NEPA analysis and are inconsistent with the particular CX used by BLM to authorize these unnecessary and environmentally damaging timber projects.

A clearcut in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument along Emigrant Creek Road.

Yet, the BLM, citing public safety concerns, began logging without any level of analysis or public input. Many of the trees removed where far from existing roads and would not have fallen into the roadbed or threatened public safety. No public facing analysis was conducted to identify safety risks or mitigation measures, to consider alternative actions, to analyze the project’s environmental impacts, or to address concerns surrounding consistency of the action with  National Monument values. Unfortunately, the Medford District BLM ignored its mandates in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

In fact the BLM has consistently starved the monument of staffing, resources, and funding for over 20 years, and is increasingly attempting to turn all land use allocations on its district, including the monument, into an extended resource base for the timber industry. As an agency, the Medford District BLM is resistant to managing the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and so many other lands under their ownership, for conservation purposes or public benefit. As an extension of the timber industry in southwestern Oregon, the BLM has never embraced the transition towards conservation-based management, and is instead actively undermining the mandates associated with monument designation.

Transfer the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to the National Parks Department!

During the Clinton Administration, Secretary of Interior Babbit created the BLM’s National Conservation Lands system, including National Monuments and other conservation-based land use allocations. The idea was that rather than transferring lands out of BLM ownership, the “crown jewels” of the agency would be managed by the BLM for conservation and the benefit of the American people, thus infusing the agency with more progressive, conservation-minded values. Unfortunately, this experiment has failed, and rather than changing the anti-environment attitudes within the BLM, it has instead infused industrial-scale resource extraction and other incompatible uses into our National Monument system.

A massive old tree recently logged by BLM near Hyatt Lake at the center of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Photo credit: Soda Mountain Wilderness Council

The recently proposed Management Plan for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (which will be covered in an upcoming post), the horrendous fire suppression response to the 2018 Klamathon Fire (which was covered in this previous post), and the recently implemented logging activities inside the monument demonstrate that the BLM is neither willing or currently capable of managing National Monuments for natural, cultural or historic values. The timber bias so prevalent in BLM planning documents, the desperate attempts to increase timber production in all land use allocations, and the failure to consider both the unique values of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument or its need for special management, demonstrates a strong need for change. This change must transfer all National Conservation Lands, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, from BLM ownership to the National Parks Department.

We believe all National Monuments should be managed with the same level of sensitivity and accountability. We gave BLM a chance with the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and they have repeatedly failed the test. It is time to move on and provide the Monument with what it deserves: true conservation-based management consistent with the Presidential Proclamation to protect biodiversity, connectivity and other natural values. The Medford District BLM continues to be one of the most controversial land management agencies in the country, with both a propensity and bureaucratic commitment for old-growth logging, rampant, unmanaged off-road vehicle use, destructive fire suppression practices, inappropriate grazing practices, and other uses inconsistent with monument values. Although the courts have affirmed the monument’s designation and expansion, and its use for conservation, the BLM will continue to undermine its most important values. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the citizens of southwestern Oregon deserve better than the Medford District BLM can provide. Transfer the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to the National Parks Department!