By Chris Saeger

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Congressman Greg Walden seems to be well-practiced at a trick long known to long-term politicians in Washington, D.C.: Your constituents won’t find out about everything you say and do in our nation’s capital as long as you keep changing the subject.

Recently, Walden said that he is a “strong supporter of America’s public lands, and will not support any effort that wipes 2 million acres off the map in any case.” Unfortunately for the congressman, however, his recent claims are just too wrong and too cynical to ignore.

It’s a basic American value that actions speak louder than words — and Walden’s actions defy any claims on his part to support public lands and national monuments.

Walden has not only failed to join the chorus of opposition to President Trump’s recent decision to gut protections for 2 million acres of national monuments and designated public lands in Utah, but he has also called for the president to do the same thing to Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument right in his own backyard.

By co-sponsoring a bill that would gut protections for public lands around the country, including in Oregon, Walden has signaled to special interests wanting to tip the scales on public lands in their favor that he’s got their backs. Meanwhile, he’s jeopardizing some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes.

That kind of transparent doublespeak may be business as usual for career politicians like Walden, but it’s hopelessly out-of-touch with the balanced approach to public land management that communities throughout the West expect and deserve.

Whether it’s from timber or tourism, collaborative public land management creates jobs in communities across the West. That’s true from Bend to Boise, Idaho, to where I live in Whitefish, Montana.

But when politicians in Washington decide to open large expanses of public lands for use by special interests, they upset that balance and put jobs at risk in the outdoors industry that depend on protecting places like Cascade-Siskiyou.

It’s time for Walden to explain how he can claim to support public lands and advocate for eliminating protections for them at the same time. I’ve personally written to the congressman’s staff with simple questions about his position on public lands. Instead of explaining his views on major pieces of legislation, they are ducking, hiding and engaging in name-calling.

Specifically, he should explain whether he would support the misleadingly named National Monument Creation and Protection Act, a proposal to empower any president to revoke protections from millions of acres of public lands with the stroke of a pen without Congress’s oversight or approval. He should likewise voice his support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps create new parks and public access to public land.

Soon, Walden may have to confront this question on the floor of the United States Congress, and he won’t be able to hide behind doublespeak when he votes on any number of proposals that would undermine public lands. If we don’t demand accountability, he may vote to give the president the power to unilaterally remove protections for millions more acres of public lands — and break his promise to his constituents that he is a “strong supporter” of public lands and national monuments.

It’s time for all of us to expect more and demand better than the same political games from our elected leaders.

We invite Walden to use space in this newspaper to explain his position.

— Chris Saeger is director of the Western Values Project, which is a project of the New Ventures Fund, a nonprofit.

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