I’ve had a few near-death experiences in my life. One was near the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. 

Let’s just say I was “Extreme Horseback Riding” with a friend. I might not have been paying as close attention as I should have because the horse decided to quickly gallop up a steep hill right under a massive oak tree. It was the massive branch on the massive tree that got me. 

What happened next wasn’t pretty. Perhaps my boots were too big for the stirrups (I do have very large feet), but sure as the sky is blue, both my feet were stuck. I was not upright. I was saved before the not-so-tame horse decided to take off with yours truly dangling off the side. 

I’m fortunate that the Cascade-Siskiyou is now making headlines for reasons other than "Horse Throws Rider to Sudden Death." Our local national treasure is in the news these days for a very exciting reason — scientists have recommended adjusting the boundaries of the monument to include additional public lands to better protect the Cascade-Siskiyou’s diverse and spectacular ecosystems. 

For the past several months, there have been informal discussions in the local community and more formal resolutions of support issued for the expanded monument. Both the Ashland and Talent chambers of commerce have endorsed the boundary adjustments. Many in the local business community recognize that protected public lands are good for the local economy, the same way the scientists see the unique ecology in the area. The monument brings in money for tourism and provides a quality of life that makes southern Oregon an attractive place to live, work and raise a family. 

Established in 2000, the Cascade-Siskiyou was the first National Monument protected for the primary purpose of the conservation of unique plants and wildlife. It is an important ecological crossroads, where plants and animals as far away as the Great Basin desert meet the Cascades, and Sierra Nevada species reach up into the Pacific Northwest.

On Oct. 14, I attended a hearing held with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Department of Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor. More than 500 people packed a room at Southern Oregon University, where as much as 80 percent of the audience spoke out in favor of increased protections for the monument.

At the meeting, local tribal leaders endorsed the protection for this area — their ancestral lands.

The cities of Ashland and Talent were there, speaking about the value this landscape provides to residents and visitors alike. Both cities passed a resolution earlier this year to support the monument and the scientists’ recommendations. In addition to local support from civic and business leaders, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has thrown its support behind expansion efforts, given that the PCT traverses right through the heart of the monument.

Sixteen years after the creation of the original monument, we understand that a larger monument will still serve a wide range of outdoor recreation users. Hunting and fishing would continue to flourish in the expanded area, and trails within the area will be better maintained.

The Cascade-Siskiyou attracts hikers, paddlers, and adventure seekers who come from near and far. These public lands belong to all Americans. They are a part of our natural heritage. But if you go there — and you are a middling horseback rider like myself — make sure you don’t ride any horses off the beaten path.

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.