Obama makes it legal on San Juan Islands National Monument

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

With Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., joining him in the Oval Office, presumably to make sure it was finally happening, President Obama on Monday signed a proclamation establishing a San Juan Islands National Monument along with monuments in four other states.

The 44th President effused in the proclamation — sounding like John Muir, or someone sailing past Patos Island on a dream-hazy summer day — but also delivered a dollars-and-cents justification for monuments in locations ranging from Delaware to New Mexico to the far corner of the “Lower 48″ states.

The White House cited the “economic value” of preservation, noting that recreation generates $646 billion in consumer spending each year and 6.1 million direct jobs.  (The statistics were cited last month by New York Times online columnist Timothy Egan in wondering why the Obama administration had been so generous opening public lands to oil and gas leasing, but so paltry with preservation.)

Cantwell took note of another long-ignored truth.  There is public support for preserving unspoiled corners of the American earth, and landmarks in the evolution of American democracy.  A new monument in Maryland, named for Harriet Tubman, honors the underground railroad that spirited escaped slaves to the North.

“Today’s designation marks the culmination of years of citizen driven efforts to protect their cherished public lands,” said Cantwell.  The national monument was pushed by San Juan businesses, conservationists and local county commissioners.  Only a few Tea Party types opposed it.

Unspoiled places draw “thousands of visitors” from across America to the San Juan Archipelago, said Barbara Marrett of the San Juan Islands Visitor Bureau.  “Conservation is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense,” she added.  “Our outdoor industry supports hundreds of jobs in the economy.”

Canada has come to the same conclusion.  It has created a national park reserve in the nearby Gulf Islands.  The preservation actions have come nearly 40 years after public opposition routed proposals for a joint U.S.-Canada trans-boundary park.

Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen have championed creation of the 955-acre national monument.  It encompasses federal holdings on several islands, the best known being Patos Island — furthest north in the chain — and Turn Point on Stuart Island, at the most northwesterly place in the archipelago.

The lawmakers introduced legislation to create a National Conservation Area in the San Juans.  However, the House Natural Resources Committee — chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. — did not bother to hold a hearing.  Nor has Hatings held a hearing on bipartisan legislation to expand his state’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

A few words from Obama’s proclamation:

“The lands on Patos Island, Stuart Island, Lopez Island and neighborhing islands constitute some of the most scientifically interesting lands in the San Juan Islands.  These lands contain a dramatic and unusual diversity of habitats with forests, woodlands, bluffs, inter-tidal areas, and sandy beaches.

“The stands of forests and open woodlands, some of which are several hundred years old, include a majestic assemblage of trees such as Douglas fir, red cedar, western hemlock, Oregon maple, Garry oak and Pacific madrona.”

He ought to come visiting sometime, and sign the Roche Harbor guestbook that bears the name of Theodore Roosevelt.