by Vickie Aldous - Medford Mail Tribune | Feb. 20, 2017 | Medford, Oregon
Two lumber companies filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the legality of President Barack Obama's expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument during his last days in office.
Murphy Co. and a related company, Murphy Timber Investments LLC, filed the complaint in federal court in Medford against President Donald Trump, acting U.S. Secretary of the Interior Kevin Haugard, the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. The new administration could choose not to defend the lawsuit.
"The monument expansion is already having an immediate impact," said Murphy Co. President John Murphy. "The Griffen Moon Timber Sale within the expansion area that was scheduled to be sold this summer has now been withdrawn without any replacement timber sale. The sale would have generated in excess of $500,000 for Jackson County."
The lawsuit says the timber sale involved thinning operations and would have generated 4 million board feet.
Murphy said more than 80 percent of the federal land included in the expansion area is dedicated to timber production through the O&C Lands Act.
The act also requires the federal government to share logging revenues with counties.
In January, Obama used the federal Antiquities Act to add 47,624 acres of public land — 42,349 acres in Oregon and 5,275 acres in California — to the 66,000-acre monument east of Ashland.
"Permanent removal of over 40,000 acres of O&C Lands from the timberland base managed by BLM will harm Murphy Company by reducing the supply of timber sold annually by BLM, which jeopardizes plaintiff's log supply and the jobs of over 400 employees at its four Oregon manufacturing plants," the lawsuit contends.
Murphy Co. has a veneer plant in White City, a softwood plywood plant in Rogue River, a laminated veneer lumber facility in Sutherlin and a hardwood plywood plant in Eugene.
Murphy Timber Investments argues the monument expansion will reduce the value of 2,101 acres of timberland it owns within the boundary, plus another 1,869 acres adjacent to the boundary.
The area has a checkerboard of private and public ownership, with monument regulations applying to the public land inside the boundary.
Murphy Timber Investments says it will lose the access it needs to efficiently manage its timberland because the BLM will decommission or abandon roads.
The company also alleges reduced thinning operations on public land in the monument will increase the risk of catastrophic wildfire spreading to privately owned land.
The companies are asking the federal court to vacate the presidential proclamation expanding the monument when it comes to the O&C lands. They want the government to manage that land for sustained yield.
As for the legal strategy involved, the lawsuit says expansion under the 1906 Antiquities Act clashes with the 1937 O&C Act's requirements for sustained timber yield on designated federal land.
The lawsuit also draws on a 1940 legal opinion given to President Franklin Roosevelt when he was considering an Oregon Caves National Monument expansion. The opinion said he could not include O&C lands, since Congress clearly set those aside for sustained timber yield with revenue sharing.
Roosevelt followed the legal advice and didn't expand that monument, according to Murphy Co.
In 2014, Obama expanded the protected area of the 480-acre Oregon Caves National Monument with the addition of a 4,070-acre preserve. The 4,070 acres had been managed by the U.S. Forest Service and was transferred to the National Park Service.
Local opinion about the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is divided, with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners critical of the expansion and the Ashland and Talent city councils in favor.
Supporters believe the expansion further protects the area's rich biological diversity and water resources, while opponents fear cutbacks on logging, cattle grazing and road access.