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Opinions divided on proposed monument expansion

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners listened to widely differing views on the proposed expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument during a public hearing Thursday night attended by more than 400 people.

Commissioners held their own hearing at North Medford High School after an earlier meeting called by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in Ashland attracted mostly expansion supporters.

Merkley and fellow Democratic Senator Ron Wyden have proposed doubling the size of the 66,000-acre monument east of Ashland, which was created in 2000 by President Bill Clinton to protect the area's biodiversity.

Supporters hope Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will urge President Barack Obama to use the same powers under the Antiquities Act to expand the monument that President Clinton used to create it.

Commissioners plan to forward the input they received from Thursday's hearing to Jewell.

Opinions about the expansion were divided.

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg and Talent City Councilor Daniel Wise said the city councils in their towns support the expansion. State Rep. Peter Buckley and state Sen. Kevin Talbert, appointed to fill out the late Sen. Alan Bates' term, also favor the expansion, as do the chambers of commerce of Ashland and Talent.

They said an expansion would further protect the environment of the area, improve the quality of life, enhance recreation and boost tourism.

However, the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce has voiced opposition, and elected representatives from Klamath, Douglas and Siskiyou Counties said logging cutbacks on federal land in the monument would mean less shared revenue for counties.

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman noted the shared revenue helps pay for vital county services, including public health programs, libraries, parks, law enforcement and animal shelters.

The Oregon Hunters Association said it does not support the monument's expansion without more public input and participation in the process.

Many people worried that road closures would cut access to the monument, especially for people with mobility problems and those who enjoy riding motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles.

While some said road closures would hurt firefighting efforts, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center Conservation Director George Sexton said plantations of young trees that grow back after logging are prone to high-intensity, fast-moving wildfires. An older, multi-layered forest with tall canopy heights is more resilient to fire, he said.

With logging off the table, resource managers could focus on protecting biodiversity, said Dave Willis of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council.

Opinions on cattle grazing were also mixed. Some said the grazing rights of ranchers need to be protected, while others said cows damage streams and contribute to the spread of invasive weeds like star thistle.

Willis said only four grazing allotments have been bought out and permanently retired, but others felt ranchers were coerced off the land.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.