Cantwell, Larsen Back Effort to Protect Land on San Juan Islands

Cantwell: ‘I look forward to championing the necessary legislation in the U.S. Senate’

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced her support for a community generated plan to turn cherished lands in the San Juan Islands into a National Conservation Area (NCA). This Congressional 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 U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA-02).

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.  On Thursday, Cantwell met with the BLM’s State Director for Washington and Oregon, Ed Shepard, to discuss the proposal. 

A National Conservation Area 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 legislation will not have a cost to the federal government or taxpayers. 

"Where the San Juan Islands meet the water are some of the most beautiful, serene spots in the world," said Senator Cantwell. "I share the local community's desire to ensure the public can continue to access and enjoy the 1,000 acres owned by the federal government.  I appreciate the great work local stakeholders, the Interior Department, and Congressman Larsen have done to protect land in the San Juan Islands and look forward to championing the necessary legislation in the U.S. Senate.  Through our efforts we will work to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy these special parts of the San Juan Islands."

“I support this locally driven effort to preserve the environment and quality of life in the San Juans so visitors and Island residents can continue to enjoy the islands for years to come,” said Representative Larsen. “I look forward to teaming up with the Interior Department, my colleagues in Congress and local communities to preserve the beautiful landscape and recreational opportunities that the San Juans offer.”

The federally owned lands include over 60 locations that range from pine forests to lighthouses and are visited by thousands of tourists every year.  The channels of water running between the islands support reefs and many of Washington’s most important marine species.  The NCA land would anchor a system that includes a National Wildlife Refuge along with a National Historic Park.

"Establishing a National Conservation Area for Bureau of Land Management lands in San Juan County makes a lot of sense and will provide important long term protection for areas treasured by locals and visitors,” said Ginny Broadhurst, Director of the Northwest Straits Commission. “As the San Juan Islands face increasing recreational pressure, these publically owned areas need stronger management tools.  I fully support the NCA designation.”

Cantwell has long been a strong advocate on efforts to preserve Washington’s natural landscape. On San Juan Island, she led 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.