By Barbara Morris

Thank you for your Sept. 20 editorial “Cascade-Siskiyou should be shrunk,” which concludes with these sentences: “Unlike his predecessors, Zinke clearly sees the value of keeping public land open to the public and assuring that earlier promises such as those given when the O&C Lands were set aside in 1937 be honored. It’s difficult to argue with either.”

I deeply appreciate our American right to free speech and this opportunity to respectfully argue with both statements.

1. Public lands, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, are, and will remain, open to the public. The proclamation and expansion simply changes the designation of these public lands. In fact, these lands are more open to more people than when they were managed primarily for timber production. There are roads throughout the monument. Hiking trails have been improved and new trails constructed. Hunting has improved due to the Bureau of Land Management’s management of the mule deer winter range. Tribal cultural sites are better protected and more accessible. Private property owners’ rights of way are explicitly preserved. The expansion proclamation includes the directive to plan for mountain bike and snowmobile access. I could go on.

2. Of course, we can, and should, revisit land-use decisions made 80 years ago. In 1937, we knew virtually nothing about biodiversity, ecosystems, population growth, human impacts on the environment and climate change.

In 1937, “biodiversity” wasn’t even a word. We wouldn’t talk about biodiversity until the 1980s. Ecology and conservation biology as disciplines within science were decades away. Aldo Leopold’s, “A Sand County Almanac,” about the interrelationships of living and non-living beings and managing for the health of the land — ideas widely accepted — wouldn’t be published until 1949.

In 1937, Oregon’s population was 1,025,000 and California’s was 6.3 million. In 2016, Oregon’s population was estimated at 4,028,977 and California’s at 39.5 million. That’s phenomenal growth. Along with that growth comes dramatically increased pressure on the land.

In 1937, automobile ownership per capita was low. People who had cars didn’t drive into the backcountry lightly. Cell phones, plastic water bottles, GPS and the internet were decades in the future.

In 1937, we didn’t have any inkling that our climate would change and that the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument’s biodiversity would be a crucial sanctuary for species threatened by extinction.

There are about 2.5 million acres of O&C lands in Oregon. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument contains about 40,000 acres of O&C land, and much of that 40,000 isn’t timber-producing for various reasons. At most, that’s 1.6 percent of O&C taken out of timber production, hardly significant in the grand scheme of things. This debate isn’t about timber production. It’s about values.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument sits at the confluence of three mountain ranges. One of these ranges, the Siskiyou Mountains, is an unusual east-west range that forms a high-elevation land bridge between the Klamath and Cascade mountains. This bridge has allowed plant and animal species to travel back and forth for hundreds of thousands of years. As a result, plant species diversity in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is incredibly high. High plant diversity leads in turn to high diversity of bird and insect species. Diversity is necessary for healthy life on Earth to persist and evolve.

We knew none of this in 1937.

There are millions of acres of public land better suited for timber production, grazing and off highway vehicle riding. Let’s maintain the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument’s bountiful diversity of plants and animals as best we can, given the realities of 2017.

— Barbara Morris lives in Bend.