What’s really behind the Malheur federal land grab?

June 27, 2016

Op-ed by Argus Observer

What’s really driving Merkley/Wyden’s 2 million acre Malheur bill?

Wait … what?

That was our reaction upon learning Oregon’s two U.S. senators want to withdraw more than 2 million acres in Malheur County from mineral exploration. Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden say the proposal would protect public lands from threats “including the possibility of foreign companies who want to parachute into the state to explore for minerals such as uranium.”

Wait … what?

First, we’re not sure anyone is out to mine Malheur County’s uranium. On Friday, uranium’s market value was $26.4 per pound, not worth the work it would take to get it out of the ground.

Second, no new leases have been taken out on Bureau of Land Management land for about a decade. Merkley and Wyden are particularly concerned about those public lands. The threat from foreign companies “is deeply troubling because these mining operations are dangerous — to the existing local economies as well as to the overall environment,” Wyden said in a prepared statement.

Third, there’s a temporary moratorium on all new mineral leases for two to 20 years already in much of the land Merkley and Wyden’s bill would cover. That plan, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, seeks to protect high-risk greater sage grouse habitat. While the bill’s effects would be more widespread — and permanent — we can’t help but question the rush to introduce this new bill.

It’s no coincidence that it comes when environmental groups are pushing to create a national monument in Malheur County. Merkley and Wyden’s bill doesn’t cover exactly the same area — it calls for protection in 2.065 million acres, not the 2.5 million the monument would include — but the areas involved are similar enough to raise eyebrows, especially since this mineral lease proposal seemed to come from out of nowhere.

“It is not based on community input, nor have there been the type of meetings that need to occur if a comprehensive plan is to be developed,” state Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, told the Argus.

That’s especially disheartening considering Merkley was in Ontario for a town hall meeting three weeks before he and Wyden announced their bill. We’d call that a missed opportunity to solicit community input.

That lack of input didn’t stop the senators from using Malheur County to sell their bill on the Senate floor. Wyden described the “hundreds of millions of acres of public lands that have hosted cattle ranching and visitors and locals for generations. These lands are supported by Oregonians who grew up there and who rely on them as a longtime linchpin for their local economies.”

That’s a true statement. But the prevailing sentiment of the people who rely on that economic linchpin is that the proper way to protect our local economy is to stop placing restrictions on the public lands that support it. Without actually talking to the people who live here, we have to ask, who are these senators representing? And what is actually driving this bill?

Reposted by  6/27/16


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