Congressman Greg Walden

Representing the 2nd District of Oregon

Op-Ed: It's time for the Obama administration to come clean on potential national monument

November 3, 2015

OP-ED COLUMN: "It's time for the Obama administration to come clean on potential national monument"

by Rep. Greg Walden

We don’t need a presidential declaration locking up more of our public lands and choking our local ranch economy.

We’ve seen this movie before. A lame duck president uses the Antiquities Act to declare huge swaths of public lands off limits so he can have an environmental legacy. Right up until the night before he declared the Grand Staircase Escalante a national monument, the Clinton White House told the Utah congressional delegation no such plans were in the works. And in his final month in office, President Clinton declared seven national monuments.

I fear the Obama administration — urged on by outside interests groups and wealthy corporations seeking a marketing niche — is up to the same “dark-of-night” declaration on the Owyhee River canyon in Eastern Oregon.

Last Thursday night, in Adrian (population 177), more than 500 people turned out to a public meeting organized by state Rep. Cliff Bentz to voice their deep concerns about this possibility. Extra chairs had to be brought in to the local gymnasium, and people were still standing in the aisles.

One person who wasn’t there? Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Although I called on her or a senior representative to attend the meeting, no senior members of the administration attended.

If they had, they would have heard a message loud and clear: Residents of Eastern Oregon don’t want another “Washington, D.C. knows best” federal designation that would further destroy our way of life.

Yet, despite this public outcry, I believe the administration is playing hide the ball from the public. The Obama administration needs to come clean about what is has planned for these millions of acres of land in Eastern Oregon.

Those of us familiar with Eastern Oregon know that the Owyhee River canyon in Malheur County is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. We also know that these lands are an important part of the economic base for Malheur County, which generates more than $370 million annually in agriculture business according to Oregon State University, of which $134 million comes from cattle.

The Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies manage 4.5 million acres, or 73 percent of the land in the county, making public lands grazing an integral part of most local family ranch operations, many of whom have cared for this high desert country since the 1860s. For generations, these local families have been good stewards of the lands. They’ve worked cooperatively and collaboratively with federal agencies to manage these lands with an eye towards the long-term viability of the range and their family’s livelihood.

Much like thinning an overstocked forest, grazing helps reduce the amount of fuel available to large rangeland fires that threaten watersheds and sage grouse habitat in the arid climates of southeastern Oregon. When fires do start, the volunteers in the Rural Fire Protection Association are positioned to respond promptly and are highly effective, thanks to their intimate knowledge of local terrain and weather.

Over the years, these ranchers have developed springs and other water sources that have supported their cattle, but also countless numbers of wildlife that share the range. The latter benefit has been particularly valuable during recent droughts.

In towns like Adrian and Jordan Valley, ranching is the base of the community. Whether through hiring employees, or buying needed supplies for the ranch or their family, they are injecting money into the local community.

A monument designation larger than the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut would greatly restrict or eliminate grazing and other productive uses of the land. It will shake the foundation of these communities and cause harmful economic impacts to the county and the surrounding region.

I’ve worked with my colleagues in the House to include language in the funding bill for the Department of Interior prohibiting the creation of this national monument. Our farmers, ranchers and rural communities are most affected by the decisions made on public lands. I will continue to work to return the focus on locally driven management efforts, and stop these unilateral actions that lock up our public lands and negatively impact our communities.

The Obama administration has done enough damage to the West through their overzealous regulations. We don’t need a presidential declaration locking up more of our public lands and choking our local ranch economy.