Late last week, President Barack Obama nearly doubled the size of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument with the stroke of a pen. Fortunately, he did nothing about the proposed Owyhee monument in far eastern Oregon, and its status remains unchanged.
Though the privilege to create national monuments belongs to the president, that can and should be changed. Locking up public land, whether for wilderness or a national monument, should be done at the behest of both houses of Congress, not by presidential fiat.
Congress gave the president the power in 1906, when it passed the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities. It did so, according to the Associated Press, because looters were having a field day with cultural remains of the Anasazi Indians in the southwest United States. Under Theodore Roosevelt at least 18 national monuments were created in the following three years, several of which became national parks when Congress made them so.
The law has been used mostly by Democrats in recent years. George W. Bush is the only Republican to have invoked it since the Gerald Ford administration in the mid 1970s.
The Cascade-Siskiyou monument was created in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton. Its original 65,000 acres spread north from the California border in Jackson County. As a result of Obama’s action, it will nearly double in size — roughly 48,000 acres were added — and extend south into California and east into Klamath County.
And, like the original Cascade-Siskiyou monument, it apparently includes at least 7,000 acres of so-called O&C lands, which, by law, are supposed to be managed for timber production. That’s got the leadership of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry association that advocates for more productive use of American forests, thinking it might persuade incoming President Donald Trump to undo or change the Obama declaration.
It’s impossible to know if such an effort would be successful. Even if it isn’t, however, it points out the value of having such decisions made by the 535 members of Congress rather than by the single person who is president.
Requiring congressional action allows all parties with a stake in a particular piece of land to be heard, something that doesn’t necessarily happen today. Going through Congress would change that, and it’s a worthy goal.