Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told OPB Sunday that Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel told him the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument in Eastern Oregon’s Malheur County has been shelved.
Merkley says he doubts President Obama will make the proclamation before leaving office Friday.
That’s encouraging, but at this writing Obama still has time to make the proclamation.
Backed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Portland’s Keen Shoes, the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness and conservation area would cover 40 percent of Malheur County — about 2.5 million acres of what is now controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
Residents believe the designation would be accompanied by restrictions and regulations that would prohibit or severely complicate grazing, mining, hunting and recreation.
While proponents say traditional uses of the land will be allowed, local opponents don’t believe them. When the locals put it to a non-binding vote — because locals really don’t get a vote — 90 percent of Malheur County voters opposed the monument proposal.
We don’t know why the proposal has been shelved, or if it really has been shelved. It could be the administration thinks the designation would be too inflammatory, given the area’s proximity to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the site of last year’s armed occupation by followers of the Bundy clan.
It could be Obama chose an easier target, instead expanding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon earlier this month.
If the president doesn’t proclaim the Owyhee Canyonlands a national monument, it’s a near certainty that such a designation won’t be made during the Trump administration.
The president has the sole authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate land owned by the federal government as a national monument.
We are encouraged that Congress is considering curbing executive authority under the Antiquities Act, if not repealing the law outright. Congress, the affected states and local residents should have more say over such designations, and the restrictions that accompany them.