The Owyhee Canyonlands region in Southeast Oregon remains the one iconic area of the state that is largely unprotected. It's not because of a lack of effort – led by the Oregon Natural Desert Association in Bend and a coalition of supporters including Keen Footwear of Portland, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and several others.
When a 2.5 million-acre wilderness designation was proposed, the sky nearly fell. Stiff local opposition mounted and the proposal went nowhere when groups such as the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, the Association of Oregon Counties, and others spoke up against the plan.
So supporters went to plan B. Create a National Monument in the region which is simply done by an Executive Order signed by the President under the 1906 Antiquities Act. President Obama has used the Act on several occasions as have several Republican presidents.
At the end of 2016, the President made two designations—one in Utah creating the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument; the other creating a 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument adjacent to land used by controversial Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Presidents have used the Antiquities Act liberally at the end of their terms—in part to establish a public lands legacy.
In most cases, there is strong public support for National Monument designations by a President, but President Obama's Utah designation was made with much opposition by local, state, and federal lawmakers, giving some hope he may do the same in Oregon.
To say there has been little local public support in Malheur County for a National Monument is a vast understatement. A county-wide vote in 2016 drew support from only 8 percent of voters.
But, even those who don't want a National Monument designation say they want protection for the Canyonlands. They've been long on words and short on actions. They've failed to come forth with their own permanent protection plan. Unlike Idaho, which has protected its side of the Owyhee region, Oregon—known for its environmental leadership—has failed.
It's time to put the argument to bed. The debate is decades old. Therefore, it's time for the President to designate a portion of these vast lands as a National Monument protecting the region from development.
A 2.5 million acre designation is simply too much. A scaled down designation of 250,000 acres would be in order...and in line with the President's recent 300,000 acre Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.
The Owyhee Canyonlands is one of America's outdoor wonders that needs and deserves protection for future generations to enjoy. The debate is in its third overtime and it's time to end the game.
Mr. President—get it done.