Wild Side: At the crossroads of a genetic loading dock

    We live at a crossroads. 

    I’m not talking about where Highway 66 and 99 come together at the south end of town. I also don’t mean that we live in the space between worlds, where magic happens — a world “betwixt and between.” Or that Ashlanders stand at a foreboding intersection, awaiting a deal-making opportunity with the devil. 

    The crossroads I’m referring to is biological. Right outside of Ashland is the single most important biological crossroads in western North America! 

    The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is that biological crossroads. It is an epic landscape where the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges converge. Where the Great Basin’s sagebrush sea meets the Douglas fir forests of the Pacific Northwest. Where off-the-charts plant and animal life abound. 

    This is such an important area for plant and animal life that Dave Willis of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council calls the Cascade-Siskiyou Area the genetic loading dock to the Noah’s Ark of globally outstanding Klamath-Siskiyou biological diversity. 

    Hmmm. Maybe it is a world betwixt and between… 

    In June of 2000, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument became the first-ever U.S. National Monument designated specifically to protect a vast array of plants and animals. So what makes this area so special? If you get out and explore this area, you’ll see for yourself this rich tapestry of life and understand. The proclamation of the monument by President Bill Clinton on June 9, 2000, describes it well: 

    "With towering fir forests, sunlit oak groves, wildflower-strewn meadows, and steep canyons, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is an ecological wonder, with biological diversity unmatched in the Cascade Range. This rich enclave of natural resources is a biological crossroads — the interface of the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou ecoregions, in an area of unique geology, biology, climate, and topography." 

    Over the last 16 years, the many benefits of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument have become ever more apparent. It has become a vital resource for numerous students and scientists, and it has provided ample opportunities for outdoor recreation while enhancing the quality of life for so many of us living in here in this little gem of southern Oregon. 

    But, there’s a tiny problem. 

    Scientists have recently concluded that, especially in the face of climate change, the boundaries drawn for the monument 16 years ago failed to adequately protect the unique biological diversity in the area, and have made a good case for adjusting the boundaries (Daily Tidings, Sept. 9, 2016). 

    Locally elected officials have also supported the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and have asked for more protective watershed boundaries. Over the years, the monument’s contribution to the local economy has steadily grown, and local businesses and elected leaders have come to recognize this. The local Ashland and Talent Chamber of Commerce boards and city councils along with the mayors of Ashland and Talent — the two closest towns to the monument — unanimously support science-based expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. 

    As we face impending climate change, and continued loss of our natural world, we here in our region find ourselves at yet another crossroads. We can keep the status quo, but scientists tell us we need to adjust the boundaries to save the nature found in the area. 

    What you can do: It is easy. Thank your elected leaders for taking a stand to protect this special place and get involved in one of the many groups like the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou, or KS Wild that are working to protect the genetic loading dock along with the Noah’s Ark of biodiversity.

    Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

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