Congressman Greg Walden Wrong about Owhyee

On his website, Congressman Greg Walden opined: “The conclusion of the Obama administration, without a national monument designation in the Owyhee Canyonlands, marks a long-awaited victory for the people of Eastern Oregon.”

Walden goes on to use a cheap shot by asserting this proposal was backed by “big-city corporate and special interests.”

One must wonder where he gets the idea that people like myself and the thousands of other Oregon residents and U.S. citizens who are, after all, the owners of these lands and support protecting the Owyhee are corporations or special interests. Seems more likely that those inclined to mine, drill for oil and graze their cattle on public lands that Walden appears to represent are corporations and special interests.

It is unfortunate that Walden hasn’t done his homework. Opposition to national monuments by local economic interests is universal. And just as universal is how wrong this opposition has turned out to be.

Over and over local perspective has been on the wrong side of history.

Teddy Roosevelt tried to get Congress to designate the Grand Canyon as a national park, but again local politicians and local folks who wanted to log, mine and graze the area were opposed and thwarted all efforts.

Not content to let short-sighted and parochial interests preclude protection of the canyon, in 1908 Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to create an 800,000-acre Grand Canyon National Monument over local objections.

So dependent has Arizona become on the Grand Canyon’s tourist dollars, that when the Republicans shut down the government in 1995 and the national parks were closed, Arizona offered to pay salaries to federal employees if the Park Service would reopen the park.

Similarly, loggers on the Olympic Peninsula were apoplectic when Roosevelt created Olympic National Monument, forerunner to today’s Olympic National Park. Had Roosevelt not acted, I am certain the largest trees north of the redwoods would have been logged.

A similar hue and cry occurred when Jackson Hole National Monument (later to be renamed and designated as Grand Teton National Park) was established with local papers declaring that Jackson, at the foot of the Tetons, would soon be a “ghost town.” Anyone who has been to Jackson lately knows it is anything but a ghost town.

More recently, in 1980 when Jimmy Carter established a number of national monuments in Alaska, including Kenai Fjords National Monument, Alaskans in Seward responded by burning the president in effigy.

Today communities like Seward, Alaska, have completely transformed themselves into a community that welcomes and loves the tourism created by the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Many of our best-known and beloved national parks were originally designated national monuments by presidential use of the Antiquities Act, including Death Valley, Arches, Glacier Bay, Bryce Canyon, Acadia, parts of Zion and many others.

Similar stories exist for nearly all the national monuments established by presidential order. Local opposition eventually becomes local celebration.

I am certain that if we ever create an Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument, future generations of Americans will be grateful that the president used his authority to garner special protection for these lands.

And I also predict that given a decade or two, even locals near these monuments will be singing the praises of these monuments once they come to appreciate the ethical, economic and ecological benefits that national monument protection brings to our American lands — lands that belong to all Americans, not just the residents of Malheur County or even in Walden’s district.






  1. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    More garbage from George.

    1. GPC Avatar

      Wow! Rude much? I can probably make an educated guess about your “profession” and who you voted for. Why are you even here?

    2. Kirk Robinson Avatar
      Kirk Robinson

      Really? Would you care to be specific? What part was garbage? Do you have evidence showing that most folks living near National Parks such as Grand Teton and Grand Canyon, which began as National Monuments, had never been protected as Monuments or Parks? If so, please spare us the sour rhetoric and present the evidence.

  2. birdpond Avatar

    We need more people to understand this, especially as the new admin looks like it wants to sell off our inheritance and treasure to be bulldozed and sold the the highest bidder. Thank you George. Sharing –

  3. GPC Avatar

    Thanks, George. Food for thought regarding our current national monuments and for reminding us that the battles for their preservation were not always easily won. Thank goodness for visionaries.

  4. Real Nice Guy Avatar
    Real Nice Guy

    It is fair to say that everybody has or represents a special interest. However, the better funded interests (e.g., oil & gas industry) usually get a greater say in the legislature than those of us who just like beautiful places and a nice walk in the wilderness. While groups like the Sierra Club have well-funded lobbying efforts, they are dwarfed by oil & gas and other exploitative industries.

    1. birdpond Avatar

      Considering that these open and relatively wild spaces act as bioreserves and provide crucial habitat for wildlife, including Endangered Species,and are also natural mechanisms for cleansing water and air, they are much more than just pretty places to walk in. But you’re right, and, to me, that is the exact reason why the federal gov should have a clear responsibility to protect these lands from looters. Not sure how to ever get the ‘earn its keep’ mentality politicians to see that some things are worth more than money and that some places must remain sacred for ecological, biological,ethical,historic,spiritual and moral reasons. If anyone has any ideas, we sure do need them now.

  5. alf Avatar

    Walden’s not only wrong on the Owyhee, he’s consistently wrong on just about every issue. And as the numerous examples George brought out illustrate, he’s on the wrong side of history.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

George Wuerthner