Pols, residents celebrate San Juan monument

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

LOPEZ ISLAND –The San Juan Islands National Monument was created by residents of its namesake islands who made a distant White House sit up and take notice, and have elicited the promise of a visit by a President usually found vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard.

They celebrated on Monday in Anacortes with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Sen. Maria Cantwell, two House members and two island teens.  The kids made clear that credit begins at home.

“I want to say thank you to the community, this was a community effort: It is great to know that future generations will have the same kind of experience I had,” said Graham Crawbuck, 16, of Friday Harbor.  He is bound for George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Reyna Ellis, 17, of Friday Harbor, added:  “I feel so privileged I live on these beautiful islands.”

Sen. Cantwell, who went to the mat for the National Monument, noted wryly:  “These are not things that come overnight.”

The 955-acre Monument protects what Cantwell described as “some of the most breathtaking spots” in the archipelago of 450 islands and rocks.

What’s the choicest place?  “Cattle Point” said Crawbuck. Ellis agreed.  Runner up?  Iceberg Point, both said.  Cattle Point sits at the far south end of San Juan Island.  Iceberg Point is at the south end of Lopez Island.  Cattle Pass separates the two choice spots.  Rep. Rick Larsen celebrated by kayaking to Iceberg Point.

“San Juan Islanders shouted from the rooftops to the President, ‘Protect these islands,’” said Larsen.

The shouting was not heard by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.  The panel did not even hold a hearing on legislation to protect the island lands when it was proposed by Cantwell and Larsen.

President Obama used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, first used by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the Olympics.  Last week, he made the island lands one of five new national monuments, ranging from historic homes to a 246,000 acre monument in the Canyonlands of New Mexico.  Rep. Hastings issued a statement denouncing Obama’s action.

“I believe there is a lot more to come: For the president, the conservation ethic is very important, for the ethic and the economy,” Salazar said. He leaves office next week and will be replaced by REI CEO Sally Jewell as the chief overseer of America’s public lands.

The Obama administration has been criticized for its slow pace at protecting public lands.  It has opened 6 million acres of land to oil and gas leasing.  But it stood by the last two years as Congress, for the first time in 60 years, did not set aside a single acre as wilderness, park, or national recreation area.

Islanders took to wearing fake tattoos, boosting the proposed monument, when months went by without White House action on the  monument. “Somewhere along the way, I thought I would have to get a tattoo,” Cantwell joked.

The San Juan Islands National Monument includes remote Patos Island, the furthest north point in the archipelago.  And there is romantic Turn Point on Stuart Island, the furthest west point in the San Juans and a legendary point for sunsets and orca whale watching.

If a coal export terminal is developed at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, enormous coal-laden, China bound bulk cargo carriers will go by both locales, especially if they use Haro Strait which marks the U.S.-Canada border.

Larsen was asked if such an industrial complex can coexist with a world-famous recreation destination and pristine lands.

He gracefully avoided answering the question.