Today, the Northwest Washington Congressional delegation introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate and House to designate nearly 1,000 acres of federally owned land on the San Juan Islands a National Conservation Area. This designation would preserve the land and ensure public access for future generations.
U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), and U.S. Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA-02) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) introduced this legislation as one option of a "dual-track approach' to protect the land. The delegation has also voiced support for President Obama declaring the land a Presidential National Monument using his authority from Congress under the Antiquities Act of 1906. In a January 2013 letter, the delegation urged President Obama to make such a designation prior to the departure of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar later this year. Cantwell, Murray and Larsen first introduced this legislation in September 2011.
"More and more people visit this pristine area each year, and we need a long-term management plan in place to protect it," said Cantwell. "Whether through this legislation or a presidential designation, we must preserve these cherished federal lands on the San Juan Islands. This dual-track approach is the best way to ensure we answer the local community's call to preserve this land for future generations to enjoy."
"Permanent, federal protection for these areas in the San Juan Islands will ensure that Washingtonians for generations to come can enjoy one of our state's greatest natural treasures," said U.S. Senator Patty Murray. "I'm proud to join my colleagues in co-sponsoring this legislation. Protection of these lands is an important effort and I continue to urge the Obama Administration to designate these cherished lands as a National Monument."
"The San Juan Islands must be preserved for residents and visitors today and in the future," Larsen said. "Whether through action by Congress or the President, the federal government should answer Islanders' calls to permanently protect these lands for the enjoyment by all. Senator Cantwell, Senator Murray, Representative DelBene and I will continue our dogged support on behalf of all the environmental, business and tribal leaders throughout Northwest Washington who want to see the dream of permanent protection made into a reality."
"These publicly owned lands in the San Juan Islands contain unique and beautiful open spaces that are cherished by the surrounding communities and the thousands of visitors they attract every year," said DelBene. "I'm proud to join Senators Murray, Cantwell and Congressman Larsen to conserve these scenic and recreational treasures for generations to come."
The citizen-driven effort to preserve this land has generated widespread, passionate support from the community. In February 2012, Cantwell, Secretary of the Interior Ken 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. Salazar has led the Administration's efforts on conserving the federally owned land in the San Juan Islands.
Permanent protection of the approximately 1,000 acres of federally owned land would ensure it remains in its current state and publicly accessible, despite higher use. The federally owned land includes more than 60 locations that range from pine forests to lighthouses and is visited by more than 70,000 people every year.