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Senator Merkley Not Opposed To Owyhee Monument Designation


Conservationists have talked about creating a federally protected wilderness in the area for decades. The remote sagebrush steppe country includes scenic canyon lands and geologic features, and is celebrated for its rugged character.

Last week an overwhelming majority of voters in Malheur County rejected the idea of a national monument in a corner of southeast Oregon known as the Owyhee Canyonlands, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Ultimately, the executive branch of the federal government has authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create national monuments on federal lands.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told Think Out Loud‘s Dave Miller that the concerns of Malheur County residents should be taken into account when crafting a monument, if it does indeed come to pass.

“A monument is a very flexible instrument … my team went out, and Senator Wyden’s team went out and we collected a lot of points people were making, and … I told [Interior] Secretary Jewell ‘We have this information, we’re happy to give it to you. If you really get serious about a monument — it’s out of our control in Congress, but please, it needs to address all of these issues.”

Merkley said he wasn’t necessarily against a monument designation.

“Quite frankly, it’s when … the executive branch goes in and establishes a monument without that dialogue with the community that creates so much dissension unnecessarily,” said Merkley.

Last week’s Malheur County vote is advisory only and holds no legal weight.

President Obama has not signaled that he intends to designate the Owyhee a national monument, as some conservationists have actively lobbied for. Obama has already created or expanded 19 national monuments.

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