Sep 15 2011

Cantwell, Larsen Introduce Legislation to Protect Federal Land on San Juan Islands

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA-02) introduced companion legislation that would turn cherished lands in the San Juan Islands into a National Conservation Area (NCA), ensuring their permanent protection and accessibility as visitor traffic continues to increase. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is a cosponsor of the Senate legislation (S. 1559), introduced Wednesday.

“This bill will ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the natural treasures in the San Juan Islands,” said Sen. Cantwell. “These scenic lands in the San Juan Islands attract more than 70,000 tourists each year, but we need a clear management plan to protect those lands. This locally-driven plan will ensure these cherished lands remain protected, accessible to the public and better managed to accommodate visitor use. I will work to advance this legislation through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and through the full Senate.”

“This bill is the result of grassroots work from the local community, a group determined to protect this amazing area,” said Rep. Larsen, who introduced H.R. 2912 Wednesday. “I look forward to continuing to partner with Sen. Cantwell to move this legislation forward. The San Juans should be preserved for not only residents and visitors, but for future generations.”

“I am proud to cosponsor this legislation to conserve, protect, and manage beautiful lands in the San Juan Islands,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray. “I am going to continue working with Senator Cantwell and Congressman Larsen to pass this legislation and help make this local vision a reality.”

In late July, Cantwell and Larsen held a community listening session in Friday Harbor to hear feedback on the effort to create a National Conservation Area. Nearly 30 people were in attendance to take part in the 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 has actively worked with Cantwell and Larsen on the legislation.

“There is no question, our local economies rely upon a vibrant and beautiful ecological experience,” said Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “Not only does this bill promote the preservation of our local natural resources, it meets a pressing need: ensuring that cherished lands remain open and accessible to tourists and families alike. Senator Cantwell and Congressman Larsen are to be congratulated for their vision in introducing this critical legislation.”

“From historic lighthouses to pristine ecological areas, these lands help define the San Juans and are critically important to the local community,” said Tom and Sally Reeve, members of the Islanders for the National Conservation Area. “We have appreciated broad support from across the region for making this protective designation happen. We are very happy to have reached this important milestone and look forward to working with our congressional delegation to pass the legislation.”

An NCA designation would ensure that approximately 1,000 acres of federally-owned lands would remain in their natural state and publicly accessible. 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. Unfortunately, there is currently no long-term comprehensive management plan for these lands. 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.

The effort to create a National Conservation Area is 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.

“The San Juan Islands are home to unique cultural and natural resources and a great example of the types of land we want to conserve for the benefit of all Americans,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “One of the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative is to connect people to the beauty and richness of our public lands and ensure we protect places like the San Juan Islands for generations to come. This legislation is an important step in the ongoing dialogue with our partners in the northwest as our nation develops a 21st century conservation agenda.”

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. 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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