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It’s Earth Day 2000. And as President Clinton, assisted by key
agency heads, finalizes plans to add more national monuments to his
“Lands Legacy,” ranchers, farmers, and residents of small towns
throughout the West worry how long it will be before they find
themselves driven from their land and their communities destroyed.
Ever since Clinton announced his Lands Legacy Initiative in January
of last year, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has been zigzagging the
West looking for areas already administered by the Bureau of Land
Management: which he deems in even greater need
of special protection by the federal government as national monuments,
critical habitat areas or other designation.
This year, the president has designated four monuments — the most
recent being the 328,000-acre Great Sequoia National Monument,
which he proclaimed last Saturday.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
On Feb. 18, Babbitt announced plans for a program under which the
BLM, rather than the National Park Service, would be responsible for
administering a new “National Landscapes Monument” network. Reportedly
over a dozen sites have been targeted for consideration of monument
status. The number may be as high as 30 — with acreage, in some cases,
of over a million acres. Acreage in these amounts is, in the
administration’s view, necessary to preserve and protect America’s
- Oregon: Steens Mountain/Alvord Basin; Soda Mountain
- Oregon, Idaho and Nevada: the Owyhee Canyonlands
- Nevada: Black Rock Desert
- Montana: Missouri River Breaks — 149-miles along the
Missouri River east of Great Falls
- Colorado: McElmo Dome
- California: Santa Rosa/San Jacinto Mountains; Carrizo
- North Dakota: Sheyenne National Grassland
“Like TR [Theodore Roosevelt] we have created an entirely new and
visionary system in the process,” said Babbitt in announcing the new
program. This redirects the bureau from its task of implementing the
congressionally mandated “multiple-use” policy — in which mining,
logging, cattle-grazing, and recreation interests share the public lands
— to the conservation of resources, particularly in the designated
Under the plan, mining, logging, grazing and other resource using
would be cut back, along with heavy recreational use. Public visiting
would be permitted only on a small scale.
“There aren’t going to be ranger talks around campfires,” said
The administration’s proposals are being bitterly resisted by those
directly affected in the area who say such added protection is not
necessary and would, in fact, impact the areas adversely. There is also
a general consensus that the intention is motivated by political
considerations rather than environmental ones.
“This isn’t about biology or the environment,” says Bob Skinner, a
rancher in southeast Oregon and president-elect of the Oregon
Cattlemen’s Association.” We’re talking politics. The promoters of
this — the environmental community and the administration — are
willing to up-end families, destroy communities, destroy an entire way
of life — do anything to advance a political, environmental agenda.”
In his view, Clinton as a lame-duck president has “nothing to lose,
and Gore has everything to gain. It’s sickening.”
As an example, Skinner points to Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon,
where environmentalists are demanding that 1.5 million acres be put into
a monument. Included within the boundaries would be the thousands of
acres of private land owned by over 200 property owners on the mountain
along with the small towns of Diamond and French Glen.
Skinner lives south of Steens Mountain and his ranch would not be
included in the monument if, indeed, it is designated. But, many
ranches north of him would be, such as the 146,000-acre Roaring Springs
Ranch — the largest in the area. Roaring Springs is owned by the
Sanders family of Portland and managed by Stacy Davies.
The ranches are privately owned but the owners have the right —
through a system of permits, which they pay for — to run cattle on the
public land. If grazing is outlawed or greatly cut-back, most ranch
owners would be forced to close their operations.
“These ranches aren’t just one or two-people operations,” Skinner
pointed out. “They hire people. There may be several families living
on a ranch, dependent on it — particularly one as large as Roaring
Springs. So, besides the owners or manager, there are all these other
people. What’s to become of them?” he asks.
Skinner is thinking of people like Fred Otley, a fourth-generation
rancher on the Steens in the Kiger Creek and Kiger Gorge area, who would
definitely be affected. In addition to owning 10,000 acres, Otley has
permits to run cattle on 10,000 acres of BLM land. He hopes to leave
his ranch and the grazing rights to his sons, “if we’re still here.”
Otley is coordinator of Friends of Steens Mountain — a group of
local citizens and ranchers and is a liaison to the local Resource
Advisory Council, a mechanism established by Babbitt to provide some
degree of public input and participation in the planning process. Otley
said the secretary promised he would not designate Steens Mountain as a
monument if Oregon congressmen of both parties come-up with legislation
and a plan for managing the area that would be acceptable to all
parties. A bill has been drafted.
“We’ve developed some very positive legislative ideas and I don’t
think the Steens will be designated too soon.” Otley told
WorldNetDaily, but acknowledged the possibility.
“The Lands Legacy thing is important to the administration and
they’re bent on doing it even if it destroys the infrastructure that’s
protecting the special places,” he said. “Under modern livestock
management systems, grazing is a positive tool for managing watersheds,
grasslands and protecting wildlife. Monument designation would [by
eliminating cattle-grazing] destroy all the progress we’ve made and
return no benefits. It would have a negative impact on things we’ve
been trying to protect.”
Otley said there are 45 public-private partnerships on Steens
Mountain dedicated to preserving the environment.
“We’ve worked hard together to manage the landscape well,” he said.
“If they come in and do a monument on us, it will destroy those
relationships and the traditions on which they’re based.”
In his view, the public should be “outraged” — not only for what the
wave of monument designation will do to the people living in an area but
also for its effect on the public at large which goes to BLM and Forest
Service lands for recreation and relaxing.
Those places will eventually be closed, he predicted, to all but a
“The public doesn’t understand that the monuments are being set up
to close lands to the public,” he explained emphatically. “A lot
of the land here is unfenced and people, when they visit, don’t really
realize whether they’re on public or private land. That will change.
People will have to buy permits to go camping — they’ll be restricted
as to where they can go.
“So there’s fear out there,” he continued. “Fear of the reality that
designation would destroy everything we’ve worked for. The public
should be outraged at what is going on — all the special places people
like to visit won’t be available to them and their families. More and
more of these will be made off-limits — particularly to motorized
travel — guaranteed.”
Still, he hopes the secretary will pass over the Steens and not
recommend it for monument designation but for something less
Not so at Soda Mountain on the California-Oregon border where a
possible 80,000 acres on the Oregon side is targeted for monument
That designation seems imminent despite opposition by much of the
local community — including the Jackson County board of supervisors
that voted a resolution opposing monument designation.
Because of the diversity of plants and animals found there, the BLM
in 1995 designated 53,000 acres of land north of the Oregon border as
the Cascade / Siskiyou Ecological Emphasis Area, a label the government
invented for that one-time use and hasn’t used since. In 1997, the
World Conservation Union marked the region as one of 50 areas of “global
significance” for plant diversity in North America.
Soda Mountain, like the Steens, is “a fantastic place,” said David
Lexou, legislative affairs director for the Motorcycle Riders
Association and the MRA liaison to the Multi-Use Trail Coalition, a
broad-based group which counts sled-dog enthusiasts, horseback riders,
hunters — everyone who uses the trails there.
The MRA was founded in 1960 and owns 220 acres in the forest, which
gave the group “a foothold as a landowner in the discussions,” said
Lexou, referring to a Feb. 18 round-table meeting in Medford between
ranchers, loggers, off-road-vehicle recreationists, environmental groups
and other users of the public lands.
Lexou, a participant at the round-table, said there were no property
rights groups represented, or any elected officials from the California
side — such as the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors which, like
Jackson County’s, has come out strongly against the designation.
“I had to speak for them and all the others who hadn’t been invited,”
Lexou said he was “surprised at the poor science on which this
proposed designation was based,” and added that the BLM had relied on
reports done by environmental groups, not its own scientists. In his
opinion, “The BLM should not use biased science in its decision making.
Unbiased science — that’s what we’re asking for.”
He reported “significant” local opposition to monument designation,
including that of local officials like the county supervisors, but
added, it “can’t hold a candle” to what the environmentalists can muster
backed by huge foundations and often multi-million dollar budgets.
Detailing the history of the pending designation, Lexou recalled that
the original area was the 3,600-acres Soda Mountain Wilderness Study
Area. It was so small it didn’t qualify as a wilderness area under the
strictures of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
“It wasn’t big enough to be considered for a wilderness, but in 1989
they found what they claimed was spotted owl habitat on adjacent land
and, so, they were able to enlarge it,” he said. “Then botanical areas,
riparian areas, areas of critical concern were tacked on –and the
boundaries were expanded to cover an area anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000
acres. The Soda Mountain Wilderness Coalition is asking for 70,000.”
Lexou is not misrepresenting the conservationist position.
“We want no grazing, mining or logging,” Dave Willis, chairman of
the Soda Mountain Wilderness Coalition told The Oregonian,
http://www.oregon-online.com a daily paper in Portland, Ore., that
covers state-wide and national events in March.” We want to close all
the jeep trails on public lands and as many non-residential public roads
as possible. We want to permit, but not promote, all forms of
wilderness recreation, including hunting. And, we want the government
to acquire private holdings from willing sellers.”
“Conservationists don’t want visitor centers and back-country
restrooms,” the Oregonian noted.
On March 10, the BLM released the draft of the Cascade/Siskiyou
Ecological Emphasis Area, “which completely obliterates considerations
of land ownership or multiple use,” according to Lexou.
“It’s all show. There will be a 90-day comment period, they’ll
collect the comments, then they’ll do what they want to do” he said