Jul 25 2011

Cantwell, Larsen Hear Community Feedback on Effort to Protect Land on San Juan Islands

National Conservation Area designation would ensure cherished lands remain in their natural state, publicly accessible

FRIDAY HARBOR, WA – Over the weekend, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA-02) held a community listening session to hear feedback on the effort to turn cherished lands in the San Juan Islands into a National Conservation Area (NCA). Nearly 30 people were in attendance to take part in Saturday afternoon’s discussion, including Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff and local public officials. The citizen-driven effort to preserve these lands has generated widespread, passionate support from the community, which is actively working with Cantwell and Larsen on the legislation.

An NCA designation would ensure that approximately 1,000 acres of federally-owned lands, spread across around 60 parcels, would get permanent protection ensuring they remain in their natural state and publicly accessible. Cantwell plans to introduce the necessary implementing legislation in the Senate, which will complement a bill being developed by Congressman Larsen. The legislation will not have a cost to the federal government or taxpayers. 

“I share the local community's desire to ensure the permanent protection and accessibility of the San Juan Islands’ natural beauty as visitor traffic continues to increase,” said Senator Cantwell. “We appreciated hearing from the community on protecting cherished San Juan lands and look forward to moving forward on a bill that incorporates their feedback. I applaud the hard work of the many stakeholders involved in moving this effort forward. Through our efforts we will work to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy these special parts of the San Juan Islands.”

“From the many letters I’ve received from constituents, to the feedback I heard at Saturday’s listening session, it is clear that the local community in the San Juans is committed to working hard to preserve the beautiful landscape and quality of life in the San Juans,” said Rep. Larsen. “I support this locally driven, grassroots effort and look forward to continuing to partner with the community as we move forward on a bill that will preserve these lands for residents and visitors to enjoy for years to come.”

The federally owned lands include over 60 locations that range from pine forests to lighthouses and are visited by thousands of tourists every year. An NCA designation will help ensure long-term protection of these natural treasures, keep them accessible and in the public domain, and better managed to accommodate heavier visitor use. The NCA land would anchor a system that includes a National Wildlife Refuge along with a National Historic Park.

This initiative is being supported by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who visited the region in April to view the parcels proposed for protection and discuss the proposal with local stakeholders.  Secretary Salazar has asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to coordinate with a committee of local groups to prepare for a transition.

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 help preserve Mitchell Hill and have it become part of San Juan Island National Historical Park. Recently, she joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in securing Senate Commerce Committee approval of the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative Act. The Act would restore and protect marine resources in Northern Puget Sound to achieve a healthy ecosystem while sustainably using resources.

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