An overwhelming majority of voters in Malheur County rejected the idea Tuesday of a national monument in a corner of southeast Oregon known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. The vast and rugged area is known for its stunning red rock geology and canyons, extreme remoteness, and wildlife habitat. It’s also an important area for cattle grazing and hunting.
The idea of an Owyhee National Monument is championed by Keen Footwear. The Portland-based company led a petition campaign to convince President Obama to designate the monument, using his executive authority through the Antiquities Act.
Malheur County leaders decided to put the idea to citizens with an advisory vote, and county Clerk Deborah DeLong says voter turnout was high for a special election — higher even than some primary elections. Ninety percent of voters rejected the monument proposal. In some rural precincts, 100 percent of voters voted no.
“It’s amazing to me that the difference in the vote was 90 percent no and 10 percent yes,” said DeLong. “That’s a huge statement.”
Malheur County resident Tim Davis leads the grassroots group Friends of the Owyhee in Malheur County. He voted yes on the monument proposal, because he said it’s important “to have areas like this for people to explore and love.”
“Now that the people of Malheur County have spoken loudly and clearly against a 2.5 million acre federal monument, it’s time for Gov. [Kate] Brown and our U. S. Senators to speak out against it as well,” said Steve Russell, Chairman of the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, in a statement. “Oregon already has millions of acres of protected lands, rivers and oceans.”
Conservation proposals for wilderness or monument designations in the Owyhee have also drawn fierce local opposition during recent public meetings. The Oregon Natural Desert Association has been talking about wilderness in the Owyhee for years, but that can only be designated through Congress.
President Obama has not given any indication that he plans to designate the Owyhee a national monument, as some conservationists propose. Obama has already created or expanded 19 national monuments. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said last week that she is not aware of any coordination between her office and the White House on a monument proposal.
The Malheur County vote is advisory only and holds no legal weight.