In a joint letter sent Monday, the Northwest Washington Congressional delegation called on President Barack Obama to take action to conserve close to 1,000 acres of federally owned land on the San Juan Islands with a Presidential National Monument designation.
U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA-2), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA-1) urged President Obama to make such a designation prior to the departure of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar later this year. Salazar has led the Administration's efforts on conserving the federally owned lands in the San Juan Islands, including holding multiple community forums in Washington state over the last several years. Salazar announced on January 16 that he would leave the post and return to Colorado later this year.
In the letter to President Obama, Cantwell, Murray, Larsen and DelBene also announced their intention to reintroduce legislation in the 113th Congress that would conserve the land through a Congressional National Conservation Area (NCA) designation. Currently, there is no long-term comprehensive management plan for these lands, which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees.
"As the 113th Congress and your second term commence, we write to renew our support for the dual-track approach to conserving certain federally owned land parcels in the San Juan Islands that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)," Cantwell, Murray, Larsen and DelBene wrote. "While we will continue to push for the swift passage of our legislation to conserve these areas, we want to make clear that we believe a National Monument designation offers another pathway that could expedite our shared goals. Before Secretary Salazar leaves office, we urge you to consider designating a National Monument in the San Juan Islands, bringing his and our efforts to fruition."
The citizen-driven effort to preserve these lands has generated widespread, passionate support from the community. In February 2012, Cantwell, Salazar and members of the community held a public meeting in Anacortes to discuss federal efforts to preserve the land. In July 2011, Cantwell and Larsen held a community listening session in Friday Harbor to hear feedback on the effort to create a National Conservation Area. In April 2011, Salazar held a meeting in Washington state with state and local leaders to discuss San Juan Islands conservation efforts.
Permanent protection of the approximately 1,000 acres of federally owned lands would ensure it remains in its 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 people every year.
"A National Monument designation will protect the sensitive and beautiful BLM lands in the San Juan Islands and would make a lasting impact of the hundreds of hours of service made by local volunteers to care for the land," said Tom Reeve, a member of the Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area. "We applaud the leadership of our Congressional delegation and urge President Obama to act now to meet the call of San Juan islanders to preserve these cherished lands for future generations of islanders and visitors."
Full text of the letter is below.
January 28, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As the 113th Congress and your second term commence, we write to renew our support for the dual-track approach to conserving certain federally owned land parcels in the San Juan Islands that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While we intend to reintroduce legislation to protect these cherished lands permanently through a Congressional National Conservation Area designation, we fully support your alternative efforts to conserve these same lands through a Presidential National Monument designation (an authority that Congress granted as part of the Antiquities Act of 1906) if such a designation ensures the same level of community involvement as the legislative effort.
The BLM manages approximately 1,000 acres in the San Juan Islands that are important wildlife habitat and draw thousands of tourists every year. Secretary of the Interior Salazar has been particularly helpful to our efforts to preserve these lands. We greatly appreciated his visits in April 2011 and February 2012 to engage local stakeholders and discuss the best way to protect and preserve public access to these unique federal parcels. His willingness to listen to our local constituents and their concerns about the legislation and National Monument designation was instrumental in gaining local support for the dual-track approach. The volunteer community group that first developed the idea of a National Conservation Area, in addition to local, state and
tribal stakeholders, now supports a National Monument designation as well. While we will continue to push for the swift passage of our legislation to conserve these areas, we want to make clear that we believe a National Monument designation offers another pathway that could expedite our shared goals.
Before Secretary Salazar leaves office, we urge you to consider designating a National Monument in the San Juan Islands, bringing his and our efforts to fruition. Thank you for your interest in the San Juan Islands. We look forward to working with you to protect these areas for future generations.