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Owyhee Future Uncertain in Wake of Other Monument Designations

December 29, 2016

President Obama has turned two vast sections of Nevada and Utah into national monuments. The Bears Ears monument in Utah covers 1.35 million acres; Nevada's Gold Butte monument is closer to 300,000 acres.

A monument under consideration for southeastern Oregon would be larger than both those monuments combined. But there’s no word on whether such a designation is coming for the Owyhee canyons of southeastern Oregon.   

Conservation groups have been pushing for creation of an Owyhee national monument, but ranchers and local leaders generally oppose that. 

Monument designations change what can be done on the land, often putting tight restrictions on mining and possibly ranching. Monuments come from executive orders outside the public process for most land-use regulations.

Malheur County rancher Elias Elguren opposes the proposed 2.5 million acre monument in his backyard.

Elguren said he has no idea if he has anything to worry about.  

“I just think there’s such a lack of openness to the process that who could really tell," said Elguren. "President Obama has until his last day of office to sign one of these national monuments into existence. So, we really don’t know, either direction.”    

Monument supporters and members of Oregon’s congressional delegation don’t know if an Owyhee monument is coming either.

Tim Davis with Friends of Owyhee said he doesn't know if the creation of the Nevada and Utah monuments make an Owyhee monument more or less likely in the remaining weeks of Obama's presidential term.

“You know, I think there is a chance," Davis said, expressing mixed feelings about the protections a monument would bring. "I mean, for myself and Friends of Owyhee standpoint, we’ve been somewhat supportive of it, but we’re still hoping for a collaboration of everyone sitting down at the table, to make a plan.”    

Davis said there are already discussions about bringing groups together to talk in March, with an eye toward limiting mining in the area and focusing on recreation activities. But Elguren said ranchers like him would need some incentive to come to the negotiating table. 

Where Davis and Elguren agree is that an open discussion would be a better approach than the high-stakes, wait-and-see situation they're in now.

They won't get an argument out of some in official capacities in Washington, DC, either. Oregon Congressman Greg Walden's spokesman, Andrew Malcolm, criticized the process by which Obama designated the other monuments this week.

"Nothing new that we have heard," wrote Malcolm in an email answering OPB's questions about a possible monument. "That's part of the problem with the Antiquities Act — no transparency or public process. It could happen at any time with no warning."

President Obama has until the day he leaves office – Jan. 20 – to take executive actions, such as designating monuments.


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Residents and conservationists disagree over what should be done to protect the Owyhee region in southeastern Oregon.

Amanda Peacher

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