A federal judge in Medford, Oregon, ruled Tuesday that several environmental groups can intervene in a lawsuit aimed at preventing the expansion the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon.
During his final days in office, President Obama expanded the national monument by about 48,000 acres. The monument was first established by President Clinton.
The judge’s ruling means Oregon Wild, the Wilderness Society, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and other groups will be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Murphy Timber Investments.
“If they prevail in making this argument, I think it would be a giant setback across a whole range of conservation issues in Oregon," said Steve Pedery, the conservation director for Oregon Wild.
Pedery said they're also getting involved because they don't trust the Trump administration to defend the national monument.
Murphy Timber Investments filed the lawsuit against the expansion in February.
Its attorneys didn’t immediately return OPB's requests for comment. But in its lawsuit, the company argues Obama went beyond what the law allows.
"Over 80 percent of the acres included within the monument expansion are O&C Lands which have been specially designed by Congress in the O&C Act of 1937 for the express purpose of 'permanent forest production,'" the lawsuit states.
Attorneys for the company argue that turning the O&C Lands into a "park-like preservation status" violates the statutes in the act and "exceeds the scope of presidential authority under the Antiquities Act."
The company said it owns 2,101 acres in the expanded monument boundary.
But Pedery said it's still possible to access, manage and harvest timber on private land inside a national monument.
In its lawsuit, Murphy Timber also argues the expanded monument has already hurt its business.
"Permanent removal of over 40,000 acres of O&C Lands from the timberland base managed by (the Bureau of Land Management) will harm Murphy Company by reducing the supply of timber sold annually, which jeopardizes plaintiff's log supply and the jobs of over 400 employees at its four Oregon manufacturing plant," the suit states.
Pedery said the environmental groups are trying to prevent a "crazy idea" from taking root: that old growth forests and salmon on O&C lands can't be protected.
"The logging industry sees an opportunity to try and make this the new law of the land — that an old growth tree on O&C land is something that we can clear-cut," he said. "It's a way to get around the nation's environmental laws; it's a way to get around public opinion and the desire to conserve these resources."