Editoria: Blumenauer is wrong about the Owyhee

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer announced recently that he’s asked the Obama administration to create a national monument in the Owyhee River Canyon area of Malheur County. One might ask why a Portland Democrat would do something no other member of Oregon’s congressional delegation has seen fit to do.

Oregon’s two senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both also Portland Democrats, have been far more circumspect. While neither has flat out rejected the idea of a monument in Malheur County, each has acknowledged the overwhelming local opposition to the idea and said that opposition should be given serious consideration.

Too, the pair has introduced legislation that would prevent mining on the Owyhee. That, Wyden said in John Day this spring, would help preserve the way of life on which the county depends.

Ranching is the chief occupation in Malheur County, and much of it occurs on federal land. That’s no surprise: About 72 percent of the county is publicly owned, mostly by the federal government.

Also not surprisingly, ranchers and those who work at the businesses supporting them, see the national monument proposal as a threat to their very livelihoods. For one thing, the proposed monument, more than 2 million acres of it, would cover more than a third of the 6.3 million-acre county.

Even without a monument, county residents know firsthand about increasing pressure on and hassles for ranchers with grazing rights. Too, ranchers already know what sort of hardship the jumble of ever-changing federal regulations can create.

That’s no doubt part of the reason an advisory vote on the proposal in March was overwhelmingly negative — 5,291 to 609 against the idea.

We agree with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, who does represent the constituents in that district. The monument designation is “unnecessary, unneeded and unwanted.”

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