Editor's note: The following story has been changed to accurately reflect Michael Parker's research involvement in the monument.
Eighteen species, 18 Southern Oregon University biology students and 60 volunteers may add up to continued protection for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, whose status is currently under review by the Trump administration.
The volunteers and students participated in the third annual BioBlitz of the monument, this year collecting information on amphibian and reptile species. In previous years inventories were taken of butterflies and plants.
“This initial inventory that was collected at the BioBlitz now provides the basis for future surveys and focused research into biodiversity on the Monument, all of which is essential for its protection,” Katie Boehnlein, a spokesperson for the Friends of the Cascades Siskiyou Monument said in a press release.
The BioBlitz is an annual survey of species collected to understand and demonstrate the value of keeping wild places. Volunteers and students spotted 18 species, consisting of five lizard, six snake, one turtle, three salamander and three frog species. The three least-common species found were the striped whipsnake, western pond turtle and a boreal toad.
The boreal toad is an example of a species in need of protection. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the "large, warty" boreal toad was once considered common, but has experienced dramatic population declines across its U.S. range. It has been particularly affected by a global amphibian disease that's been responsible for the decline of about 200 amphibian species around the world.
Petitions have been filed under the Endangered Species Act to classified the boreal toad as an endangered or threatened species.
The BioBlitz held on May 20 was the largest survey to date in the monument. Student leaders led participants to numerous sites, including the Sampson Creek Preserve, Mayfield Gardens, Upper Parsnip Lakes, Baldy Creek, Boccard Point, Agate Flat, Shoat Springs, Box-O Ranch, Jenny Creek (upper and lower), the Oregon Gulch and Fredenburg Meadow.
In the 5½-hour search, the most widespread and frequently encountered species was the western fence lizard, which accounted for 76 percent of all observations and was found at all nine locations. Racers, southern alligator lizards and western skinks were also frequently encountered.
“This BioBlitz was the first large scale survey of the herpetofauna, (amphibians and reptiles) within the monument, where citizens worked alongside SOU students to document the distribution of the many species of herps with the monument's recently expanded boundaries,” says Boehnlein.
SOU Biology Department Chairman Michael Parker, whose herpetology class participated in the BioBlitz, said the effort will expand the knowledge base about the monument and its inhabitants.
Parker has been conducting research on Oregon spotted frogs and turtle populations in the monument for 15 years and was the primary researcher who conducted amphibian surveys in all of the monument's streams prior to the monument's establishment.
The BioBlitz also comes at a time when the monument designation for the forest and grasslands in Southern Oregon and Northern California are “under review” by President Donald Trump's administration. All national monuments created after 1996 and exceeding 100,000 acres are under review, which could lead to them being scaled back in size or stripped of protections.
President Bill Clinton created the 66,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in 2000, and this January, just prior to leaving office, President Barrack Obama expanded the monument to more than 113,000 acres.
The expansion came as Obama also created five new national monuments, which Trump labeled “a massive land grab by the federal government that never should have happened.” Trump is reviewing the monument status for about two dozen current designated sites, the majority of them in western states.
Ranchers and those in the timber industry have been harsh critics of monuments, saying their protection hurts local economies.
Trump said the protections imposed by his predecessors, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama, “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control, eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land.”
No president has previously reversed a monument designation of a prior president since the law was created by the 1906 Antiquities Act.
While these developments concern Friends of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, organizers say their primary purpose is to continue opportunities to involve people in the nearby natural landscapes as the best way to protect the environment and preserve species.
“This BioBlitz also highlighted the Monument as a community and educational resource, increasing public appreciation of the incredible uniqueness of the CSNM and providing a hands-on opportunity to learn more about it,” says Boehnlein, who added that similar activities would continue despite the review.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been directed to produce an interim report this month and a final report in 120 days on the most contentious of the orders, the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
No time line has yet been announced for a final report in the review of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.