CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. — An environmental activist plan to federalize
more than one million acres of southwestern Oregon, endorsed by more
than a dozen national organizations, is meeting significant grass-roots
opposition from ordinary working people in this rugged, sparsely
While Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney campaigned
last Thursday in nearby Central Point, promising to review President
Clinton’s decisions that put millions of acres in the West all but
off-limits to mining, development, grazing, farming and recreation, some
500 Oregonians were holding one of their weekly strategy sessions
opposing the newest monument plan.
Area of Southern Oregon designated as the “Siskiyou Wild
The Siskiyou Wild Rivers National Monument, a plan sitting on the
desk of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, is being promoted by a
coalition of environmental activist groups including the Sierra Club,
the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society and the World Wildlife Fund.
In a multi-colored brochure prepared and distributed widely in this area
Siskiyou Project, the monument plan is touted as a way to “protect, preserve and restore the globally important objects of scientific and historic interest found in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains.”
But, there are plenty of skeptics.
Jim Nolan, an engineer who designs business communication systems, first heard about the Siskiyou Monument project last month in a report in a local newspaper. He began talking to his neighbors about fighting it and discovered Ron Smith. Both Nolan and Smith are lifelong Illinois Valley residents, equally passionate about local control and a self-supporting, economically viable community.
In a matter of days, the two of them had managed to build a local chapter of
People for the USA and establish weekly meetings attracting up to 500 opponents of the monument plan.
“What bothers me most about this project is the restrictions on access to the forest, the lockup of the resources so that the common man doesn’t have access to them to make a living,” says Nolan. “When forests are locked-up like they plan to do, only the large corporations will have the will and the money to get access to the resources.”
Though spokesmen for the Siskiyou Project were unavailable for comment, in local news reports they have characterized their plan as a “long shot” bid to get President Clinton to proclaim another monument before leaving office Jan. 20.
Ever since Clinton announced his Lands Legacy Initiative in January of last year, Babbitt has been zigzagging the West looking for areas already administered by the
Bureau of Land Management he deems in need of special protection by the federal government as national monuments, critical habitat areas or other designation. This year, the president has designated at least five such monuments — but none as big as the proposed Siskiyou Wild Rivers Monument that encompasses more than one million acres of mostly rugged forest surrounding the Illinois Valley towns of Cave Junction, Selma, Kerby and O’Brien and a rural population of some 17,000.
Opponents of the monument say the real agenda of the project is to drive out those pesky people.
“They call these ‘public’ lands,” said one unidentified protester. “But they’re not public at all. The purpose of this plan is to keep the public out.”
While the monument project does not specifically call for relocation of the small population, opponents say that is what will be accomplished by increasingly tough environmental regulations, protection of so-called “endangered species,” downsizing of fire-fighting crews and closing of roads. All that, they say, coupled with a willingness by government to exercise eminent domain, condemnation and buyouts of private property, will inevitably lead to depopulation.
If approved by Clinton or his successor, the Siskiyou Wild River Monument would be the second largest ever created. The U.S. House of Representatives approved President Clinton’s designation of 1.7 million acres of Utah land as a federal wilderness area and monument in 1998.
Yet, Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument deal, initiated by the president just seven weeks before the 1996 election, was later characterized as a blatant political act under the guise of environmental protection in a congressional staff report.
“The only thing the president was trying to protect by designating the Utah Monument was his chance to win re-election,” the report bluntly states. “The ‘threat’ motivating the president’s action was electoral, not environmental.”
Opponents of the Siskiyou Monument fear similar motivations could invite Clinton to make a similar election-eve gambit this year on behalf of Al Gore.
Clinton has used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to justify his monument proclamations. Cheney accused Clinton this week of abusing his executive authority “willy-nilly all over the West” to create national monuments without considering the desires of the people who will be affected.
During his entire time in office, Clinton has created or added to 10 national monuments, covering nearly 4 million western acres in his effort to carve out an environmental legacy. Clinton’s top aides have stated the president plans to continue to use his authority in issuing executive orders, presidential decision directives and proclamations right up until the day he leaves office.
That’s what the Siskiyou Project, with its $500,000 annual budget and paid staff, is banking on. But Nolan and his band of grass-roots working-class opponents say they are in the fight for the long haul.
“The Sierra Club has a slogan: ‘Endless pressure, endlessly applied,’” he says. “We’re going to apply it right back.”
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Joseph Farah is the founder and editor of WorldNetDaily.