The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument has expanded by more than 900 acres, following the transfer of property from The Conservation Fund to the Bureau of Land Management.
The transferred land, which includes a stretch of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, was formerly owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group.
The national monument, located at the intersection of the Cascade Range, Siskiyou Mountains and Klamath Mountains, was created in 2000 to preserve the area's biodiversity. The monument now includes about 61,700 acres in Southern Oregon.
Conservationists have called the monument area the "Galapagos of North America" because of its wide range of plant and wildlife species, many of which are unique to the area. The monument also offers many recreation opportunities, including hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, hunting and winter sports.
Congress provided funding for the purchase through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The transfer of the lands, along with parcels the BLM purchased in 2012, completes more than half of an effort by the BLM and The Conservation Fund to protect land that is one of the largest remaining private landholdings within the monument boundary — approximately 6,570 acres — owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group.
About 2,900 acres of Hancock Timber lands remain available for sale, and supporters of the monument say they hope future funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund could help the BLM acquire the remaining property for conservation.
The federally managed land protection program is funded from the development of federally owned offshore oil and gas resources and has been used to protect forests, natural resources, state and local parks and recreation areas since 1965.
Oregon's two U.S. senators both released statements praising the monument expansion.
"Today's land transfer means that the project to increase public lands at the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument — which is truly one of Oregon's special places — is more than halfway complete," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "Conserving this land within the monument means more opportunities for hikers, hunters and the rest of Southern Oregon's robust recreation economy."
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument "one of America's most treasured ecological places."
"This land transfer will help conserve this area for future generations," Merkley said in a release. "This will help provide protected habitat for many native plants and animals, and also provide new recreation opportunities for Southern Oregon. Preserving this important area reminds us of how critically important it is to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was essential for this to happen."
A Conservation Fund statement noted that the purchase of the land will help reduce fragmentation on the monument between public and private lands. The monument was created out of a checkerboard of alternating federal and public lands, a pattern that is common in areas where public lands are managed by the BLM.
David Kimbrough, manager of Hancock Timber Resource Group, said the group intended to continue working with The Conservation Fund and the BLM "to ensure that the rest of the sensitive lands in this biologically rich landscape are conserved forever."
Encompassing a diverse array of landscapes, from the high, dry deserts of the Great Basin to the wet, lower-elevation forests of the Pacific Coast, the monument region supports critical habitat for 3,500 plant and animal species.