USA President Barack Obamas expansion of the national monument on the California-Oregon border, putting more acreage under stricter federal control, could make it harder to prevent catastrophic wildfires from engulfing the region.
Obamas decision to expand the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by 48,000 acres was met with applause from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers. The designation was made at the urging of 15 local scientists who said the existing national monument was not big enough to protect the ecological wonder from global warming and human development.
Its one of several last-minute monument designations issued by the White House before Obama leaves office using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Enlarging the Cascade-Siskiyou monument could have the exact opposite effect the Obama administration hopes for, however, as stricter federal control of lands could increase the risk of wildfires in the region.
The Department of the Interior said Obamas decree prohibits the commercial harvest of timber unless theres a science-based ecological restoration project for protection and old growth enhancement objectives.
Tree removal can only take place if clearly needed for ecological restoration and maintenance or public safety. Existing timber rights will be respected, but overall logging will be further restricted.
Republicans and the forestry industry argued the expanded monument could increase wildfire risks in letters sent to Obama and top Democrats in late 2016.
Republicans on the House Committee on Natural Resources said the areas being considered for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monuments expansion at high risk to wildfire and in need of active management. They cited a 2014 assessment by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
A national monument designation would further restrict already abysmal federal management activities to improve forest health and treat high-risk, fire-prone areas, Republicans on the natural resource committee wrote to Obama in November.
Obamas monument expansion includes lands set aside by Congress in the 1930s for sustainable logging and land management, called O&C Lands. Logging companies are required to reforest logged areas, which means lots active management to keep wildfires at bay.
The logging industry warned putting more lands off-limits to sustainable logging will hurt local communities dependent on timber revenues and make it harder to manage forests that includes, fires, plant diseases and invasive species.
Many of the lands within the proposed monument expansion are in need of forest thinning and restoration activities to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) wrote to Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in October.
AFRC members have an economic interest in maintaining access to federal forest lands, but they also have a point. Commercial activity allowed under existing federal law incentivizes logging companies to keep forests on public lands healthy.
AFRC argues fire management activities, like thinning, wont be carried out if the monument is expanded. The BLM, for example, found in 2014 that nearby Howard Prairie Lake was at medium to high risk of losing key ecosystem components if more active management isnt taken.
The federal government owns nearly 53 percent of the land in Oregon.
But the Cascade-Siskiyou expansion, along with other Obama designations, may be overturned by President-elect Donald Trump.
Republican lawmakers have encouraged Trump to undo or shrink Obamas monument designations. Obama has used the Antiquities Act to create or expand 34 national monuments totalling more than 553 million acres of federally-controlled land and waters.