03/08/2013: "Will Obama Declare National Monument Status To BLM Lands In County"
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 legislation on Thursday (03-07-13) for a ‘dual-track approach’ to conserve BLM (Bureau Land Management) land in San Juan County with legislative action (Current proposed S497) or by direct executive action by President Obama (Related Story), who with a simple signing of the pen can make land a Presidential National Monument by use of the American Antiquities Act (Act).
The Act was intended to protect “objects” such as “any object of antiquity, and a Prehistoric ruin or monument,” and “ other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.”
The only time land is to be protected by the wording of the Act, is if it is “necessary for the proper care and management of the object.”
But it leaves unanswered the question of, to what extent, and begs the question of “What is the ‘object’ on the BML lands that is to be protected? The answer would seem to be the land is the object.
Section 4 of the AAA states the government may “from time to time make uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act,” and there have been interpretations that allow land without the important “objects” on it to be turned into a National Monument.
Such would seem to be case with the SJC lands: “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 question now is do Cantwell, Murray, and a host of other agencies and organizations pushing for a new National Monument in San Juan have a chance of obtaining the President’s agreement to declare BML lands in SJC to be a National Monument? There is no evidence from the White House they do, but now that the election is over, and the push is once again on for action, and if legislation fails, one might expect the President will once again pick up the pen and take action.
And if so, it would seem the expressed concerns that it opens the door to the provision in the Act that allows even land “held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government,” is a concern.
“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.”
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. Salazar has led the Administration’s efforts on conserving the federally owned land in the San Juan Islands.
In April 2011, Salazar held a meeting in Anacortes with state and local leaders to discuss San Juan Islands conservation efforts.(Related Story).
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.