Who doesn't like a party? Especially when it celebrates the
designation of our country’s newest National Monument -- one that protects the
lands, waters, and wildlife of the San Juan Islands. Just off the coast of
Washington State, I recently traveled to the islands to attend an event with a
host of elected officials, business owners, recreationists, and
conservationists. Friends came together
to thank the Obama administration for designating the new San Juan Islands
National Monument and to celebrate a long-fought-for victory.
National monument status will permanently protect precious
lands in the San Juan Islands. These sites, already managed by the Bureau of
Land Management (BLM), include recreational areas beloved by locals and
visitors, cultural sites used by local tribes for thousands of years, historic
lighthouses, disappearing habitat, and much more. Protecting recreational use
of these beautiful public lands will ensure tourism and outdoor recreation continue
to have a positive impact on our economy. The Outdoor Industry Association
estimates that recreation -- hiking, camping, paddling, and climbing -– contributes
$22.5 billion to Washington's economy and supports more than 226,000 jobs.
National monument status assigns these lands to the BLM's
National Conservation Lands System, which requires the BLM to protect and preserve
these lands, directs the agency to work closely with the local community on a
management plan, and prevents potential exploitation, development, or sale of
these sites. The Conservation Lands assignment could also have been made by
Congress by designating a national conservation area (NCA). Senator Cantwell,
Senator Murray, Representative Larsen, and Representative DelBene introduced
legislation to do just that in both the 112th and 113th Congresses.
Congressional gridlock has long prevented action on this and more public lands
legislation. As a result, the Washington State delegation joined the community in
supporting presidential action to accomplish our goal of permanent protection
of BLM lands in the San Juan Islands with a strong community voice in their
Many of Washington State's congressional leaders were on hand at Monday's
event, Representatives Larsen and DelBene highlighted the economic
opportunities that come from conservation designations, while Senator Cantwell
spoke of the importance of the designation for future generations and the value
of local input in the process. She noted that just because the land was under
the ownership of the BLM didn't mean it would be protected from development. "We had a choice," she said. "Do we want to toss it up for the future to see
what this land might become, or do we want to say it's so special that it will
be preserved? The community was loud and clear. They wanted the latter." She also
highlighted that national monument designations don't happen overnight.
Efforts to protect lands in the San Juan archipelago began
in earnest in 1989, when a hiker noticed trees on the backside of Chadwick Hill marked for logging. Supporters spent a week gathering 600 signatures to
stop the logging operation, but the group was told it needed to create a larger
vision, which has now been included with the 450 acres on Chadwick Hill. About
four years ago, the group realized that the rest of the BLM land in the islands
was not afforded any protections. The effort to create a national monument made
of these lands came from that moment, Cantwell recounted.
Senator Cantwell said of the campaign to create the monument, "It may have started in a living room on Lopez Island, but it traveled all the
way to the Oval Office."
This is what made this celebration even sweeter -- it is
important to remember that a group of committed individuals can still come together
and protect special places; and that this protection is good for our economy
and even better for the lives of our future generations. The people of western
Washington know this and they are thankful for the actions of the Obama
administration and the Department of the Interior.
--Dan Ritzman, Senior Campaign Manager
Secretary Salazar asks for a show of hands from all those "happy" about the new monument (photos: Dan Ritzman)