Murray, Cantwell tell Obama: We want San Juans monument NOW

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

President Obama should act now, using his presidential powers, to designate a national monument to protect “cherished lands” owned by the federal government in the San Juan Islands, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and two House colleagues urged Obama in a letter sent Monday.

The lawmakers noted wide local support, and visits by outgoing U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dating back to April 2011.  “Before Secretary Salazar leaves office, we urge you to consider designating a National Monument in the San Juan Islands, bring his and our efforts to fruition,” they wrote.

The letter’s urgency underscores a frustration, locally and nationally,  at the Obama administration’s glacial pace at protecting public lands, even in places like the San Juans where local government leaders and businesses are on board.

The proposed National Monument would include 955 acres of land currently under the auspices of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

It includes several cherished and famous places.  One is remote Patos Island at the north end of the island archipelago,  another the wonderful sunset-watching bluffs around Turn Point on Stuart Island, a third the secluded Watmough Bay on Lopez Island.

Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Obama has the authority to designate national monuments.  He has used the authority sparingly, most recently protecting the home of Cesar Chavez and original headquarters of the United Farmworkers Union in California.

Other presidents have thought and acted on a more ambitious scale, decisions far reaching in how American benefited.

Soon after the Antiquities Act was passed, President Theodore Roosevelt designated an Olympic National Monument, protecting the core of what is now one of America’s greatest national parks.  He did so to prevent slaughter of the Olympic elk that now bear his name.  Roosevelt created another monument in the Grand Canyon, once more the precursor to a national park.

President Bill Clinton designed a Hanford Reach National Monument in 2000, protecting the last undammed stretch of Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and the Canadian border, and the great white bluffs on the north side of the river.

He also created an Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument, protecting a stretch of Missouri River almost as wild as when Lewis and Clark traveled it two centuries ago.  Clinton did two more monuments in the canyon lands of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, and protected groves of giant Sequoias in California.

Two national parks in Alaska that celebrate ice and volcanic fire — Glacier Bay National Park and Katmai National Park — were monuments before Congress acted in 1980 to make them parks.

Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., have made the San Juan proposal a special project.  The latest letter is also signed by newly elected U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., whose newly redrawn 1st District includes nearby Lummi Island.

All four lawmakers have vowed to reintroduce legislation to create a National Conservation Area on the BLM lands.  But the legislation has been bottled up in the House Natural Resources Committee. Its chair, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has ignored Washington’s longstanding tradition of bipartisan cooperation in protecting the state’s scenic and recreational treasures.

Hastings has  also been sitting on bipartisan legislation to protect the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River and add the wild Pratt River valley in eastern King County to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Given his obstructionism and pronounced discourtesy, the delegation has tried to get Obama’s attention, which has always been on fundraising when he visits the state.

They politely urged Obama on Monday to get a move on.

“While we will continue to push for the swift passage of our legislation to conserve these areas, we want to make it clear that we believe a National Monument designation offers another pathway that could expedite our goals,” they wrote.