Following on a memo recently issued by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Interior Department agencies have begun collaborative work with local communities, Members of Congress, tribes, and other partners to enhance conservation and recreation opportunities on Interior-managed lands in Washington's San Juan Islands.
"On my recent travels to Washington State, I heard from local residents, tribal leaders, and county commissioners about their desire to better protect the lands we manage in the San Juan Islands," Secretary Salazar said. "The enthusiasm and support that the local community expressed for protecting the San Juans is inspiring and Interior should do all it can to support these efforts -- including efforts by Members of Congress - to help build a proud legacy for the area's residents and visitors to enjoy."
Salazar said conservation of the islands complements President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a conservation ethic for the 21st century and to reconnect Americans, especially young people, to the natural world.
In his memo to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and acting Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould, Secretary Salazar notes that the local community has expressed support for the creation of a National Conservation Area for the approximately 1,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in the San Juan Islands. Secretary Salazar said that the Department will work closely with interested Members of Congress on a proposal for a National Conservation Area, which would require legislation to be established.
"I support this locally driven effort to preserve the environment and quality of life in the San Juans so visitors and Island residents can continue to enjoy the islands for years to come," said Representative Rick Larsen. "I look forward to teaming up with the Interior Department, my colleagues in Congress and local communities to preserve the beautiful landscape and recreational opportunities that the San Juans offer."
"Where the San Juan Islands meet the water are some of the most beautiful, serene spots in the world," said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. "I share the local community's desire to ensure the public can continue to access and enjoy the 1,000 acres owned by the federal government. I appreciate the great work local stakeholders, the Interior Department, and Congressman Larsen have done on this proposal and look forward to championing the necessary legislation in the U.S. Senate."
"I am pleased that Secretary Salazar has demonstrated such strong support for local conservation efforts in the San Juan Islands," said U.S. Senator Patty Murray. "I look forward to working with Senator Cantwell and Congressman Larsen to help make this local vision a reality."
Salazar has named Karen Kelleher, head of the BLM's Wenatchee Field Office, to coordinate the development of ideas to complement a National Conservation Area proposal, and to enhance conservation and recreation for Interior lands in the San Juan Islands. In addition to the public lands owned by the BLM, the National Park Service operates San Juan Island National Historical Park, consisting of 1700 acres at two different sites on the San Juan Island and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing 83 small rocks and islands totaling almost 450 acres.
The Secretary asked that Kelleher work with all interested parties to address the following questions:
* How can lands and assets under the Department's management in the San Juan Islands be better managed to facilitate visitation, conservation, and recreation? How can the Department's agencies collaborate with each other and the community to facilitate visitation, conservation, and recreation of its lands and assets?
* What are the advantages and considerations involved in creating a "one-stop shop' for visitors who want to gather information about recreation opportunities on federal, state, and local lands in the San Juan Islands?
* What appropriate management changes would ensure that federally-managed lands in the San Juan Islands are conserved for future generations and are a part of the larger regional fabric of protected lands and waters?
* How can the Department provide the local community a better opportunity to offer input on the stewardship of federally-managed lands in the San Juan Islands?
Kelleher and BLM officials are to begin open discussions with the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the San Juan Islands community by August 1, 2011, to develop a proposal that Salazar will consider within the next 6-9 months. To help meet this timeline and ensure that the conservation initiative reflects the best ideas from Interior agencies and the community, Salazar directed that work begin immediately on collaborative and open interagency discussions.
A group of San Juan Island leaders has been working toward having Bureau of Land Management lands in the San Juans designated as a National Conservation Area and the San Juan County Council has passed a resolution of support with a unanimous vote. The BLM properties are scattered around the SanJuans and include small islands, coastal points, light house sites or former light house sites that have remained under federal management. About 60 separate sites encompass 1,000 acres. The largest properties under BLM management are Patos Island and a section of the southern end of Lopez Island. A National Conservation Area designation would be the first in Washington State.