Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged Deputy Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Mike Pool to commit to extensive citizen involvement in the effort to protect federal land on the San Juan Islands. The exchange took place during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing about Cantwell's legislation to designate 1,000 acres of federal land in the San Juan Islands as a National Conservation Area (NCA).
During the hearing, Cantwell asked: "Ok, and if this legislation was passed, obviously the management plan and implementation is critically important to the local community. How would the Bureau of Land Management commit to fostering a kind of community environment on the management? You know an advisory plan or drafting, or implementation, or management, how would that function work?"
Pool responded by saying: "I think it would include all of the above. Which we've done on similar type designations. We would develop a plan for the area obviously in close concert with the affected citizens. And we have other conservation templates out there, the state of Washington, fish and wildlife service, parks service, they are all represented in that province so we're kind of the new kids on the scene here. And obviously we're going to respect some of the conservation strategies and principles that they've also adopted and be very similar to that."
Cantwell's legislation establishes a Citizens Advisory Committee to help the BLM develop and implement a long-term management plan for the proposed NCA. The citizen-driven effort to preserve these lands has generated widespread, passionate support from the community, which has actively worked with Cantwell on the legislation. Today, there is currently no long-term comprehensive management plan for these lands. An NCA designation would ensure that approximately 1,000 acres of federally-owned lands would remain in their current state and publicly accessible, despite higher use. The federally-owned lands include over 60 locations that range from pine forests to lighthouses and are visited by more than 70,000 tourists every year.
In her opening statement, Cantwell noted the importance of preserving the San Juan Islands, saying " the fact remains for such a pristine and unbelievable area of our country, there is no long-term comprehensive management plan in place. So that is why we have introduced this legislation. And if enacted it would designate all 1,000 acres of the BLM land in the San Juan area as a National Conservation Area ensuring that they would remain a national treasure." To view her opening statement, click here.
Today's hearing follows up on the February 18, 2012, town hall meeting with Cantwell, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and members of the community to discuss federal efforts to preserve the San Juan Islands. The proposed NCA in the San Juan Islands was identified as one of 18 backcountry areas the Department of the Interior highlighted as deserving protection by Congress as an NCA or wilderness area.
In July 2011, Cantwell and Larsen held a community listening session in Friday Harbor to hear feedback on the effort to create an NCA. Nearly 30 people were in attendance to take part in the discussion, including BLM staff and local public officials.
Cantwell has long been a strong advocate on efforts to preserve Washington's natural landscape. On San Juan Island, she led the effort to secure federal funding to prevent a private, out-of-state real-estate developer from obtaining ownership of Mitchell Hill, a popular and scenic hiking trail. Because of her efforts, Mitchell Hill remains in the public domain and is protected against private development as part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park.
Cantwell's opening statement as delivered at today's hearing is below:
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I'm sorry I'm getting to the hearing late here, and I thank you for holding this important hearing, and I'm pleased to see that the committee is considering the San Juan Island National Conservation Area Act that I've worked so closely on with many people in the San Juans and obviously with my colleague in the House, Congressman Larsen and my colleague here Senator Murray.
So I'm very pleased that the Bureau of Land Management is here today. And you probably know that last month the acting director and the secretary were out in the Northwest for a community listening session and had a lot of input from residents of the area.
And I would also like to welcome Mr. Doug Gann of Kirkland, Washington who is here to discuss the Cabin Free Act. And it is good to see that we have people here talking about legislation that Senator Tester and the forest service, uh, that we're all working together to make sure that there are not unreasonable fees on those cabins.
So the San Juan Islands legislation is truly important, and I think I'll wait until my questions to go into more detail, but the fact remains for such a pristine and unbelievable area of our country, there is no long term comprehensive management plan in place.
And since we just went through a process in 2005 with the state department of natural resources, a unilateral decision was made to divest a property in San Juan County, including Mitchell Hill which is a very popular and scenic hiking trail in the San Juan Islands. And while these lands were actively pursued by private out-of-state real-estate developers, we were proud to work with the local community to make sure that these areas were protected.
But like this situation there is no permanent protection for the Bureau of Land Management on these lands and these are very, very special places. So that is why we have introduced this legislation. And if enacted it would designate all 1,000 acres of the BLM land in the San Juan area as a National Conservation Area ensuring that they would remain a national treasure.
So I look forward to hearing more testimony and specifics today from Mr. Poole, but thank you very much for being here. And we certainly want to make sure that, I think from our listening session in the community, I can tell you that everybody wants the land to make sure that it continues in its current status.
And the question is how best to do that and we think this provides a very, very positive step forward. So thank you Mr. Chairman and I'll wait for my questions.