Obama Uses Pen to Protect California Shoreline: More on Way?

President Barack Obama promised in his State of the Union address to use his authority to protect “more of our pristine federal lands for future generations” to get around congressional resistance to new wilderness areas, national parks and monuments.

Point Arena-Stornetta along California's Mendocino coastline has been added to the California Coastal National Monument. Flickr photo by BLM California.
Point Arena-Stornetta along California’s Mendocino coastline has been added to the California Coastal National Monument. Flickr photo by BLM California.
So far, so good. Responding to overwhelming local support, Obama has used the power of the presidential pen and declared 1,665 acres on California’s Mendocino Coast as a national monument. Point Arena-Stornetta is now part of the California Coastal National Monument that stretches 1,100 miles.

Obama invoked the Antiquities Act to add the lands to the monument, saying our country “is blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It’s up to us to protect them, so our children’s children can experience them, too.”

The Bureau of Land Management says the area close to the town of Point Arena includes access to 12 coastal miles of public lands, bluffs, the estuary of the Garcia River, dunes, sandy beaches and adjacent small islands. It’s home to several threatened and endangered species, including the Point Arena mountain beaver, western snowy plover, Behren’s silverspot butterfly and California red-legged frog.

Power of the Presidential Pen

Point Arena-Stornetta features coastal bluffs, tide pools, onshore dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks, and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River. Photo:Flickr:California BLM
Point Arena-Stornetta features coastal bluffs, tide pools, onshore dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks, and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River. Flickr photo by California BLM.
As in other parts of the West, area residents and businesses supported protecting the public lands and welcomed the president stepping in where Congress won’t venture. Obama noted that California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson have supported legislation adding the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the national monument.

Congress recently approved its first wilderness bill in five years. The president signed the bill into law Thursday, designating about 32,500 acres of Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness.

However, the Point Arena-Stornetta legislation had stalled. “If we wait for Congress, it’s never going to happen,” Scott Schneider, chief executive of Visit Mendocino County, told The Washington Post.

“Californians truly value the natural beauty of our more than 1,000 miles of coastline, and we thank President Obama for enlarging the California Coastal National Monument with this important new designation,” said Beth Pratt, director of the National Wildlife’s California program. “We also value our marine creatures in the Golden State, and, aside from the scenery, this also protects vital breeding habitat for California sea lions, southern sea otters, and Steller sea lions, and nesting habitat for an estimated 200,000 seabirds.”

Conservation Pays

Protecting the area’s important wildlife, conservation and scenic values also makes economic sense, federal officials and local community and business leaders agree. The White House said in its press release that the site draws thousands of visitors yearly.  In California, outdoor recreation on public lands managed by BLM contributed nearly $900 million to the economy in 2012, according to the release.

Last year’s presidential declaration of  northern New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument is expected to double the estimated $17.2 million generated yearly by hunting, fishing, recreation and other activities on the public lands. Proponents of making central Colorado’s Browns Canyon a national monument point to the widespread support that includes area rafting companies and other businesses, hunters, anglers,  veterans and landowners.

Sen. Mark Udall is sponsoring a bill to protect Browns Canyon. Fellow Coloradan Sen.  Michael Bennet is a co-sponsor.

“We applaud President Obama for protecting Point Arena-Stornetta, a spectacular piece of our nation’s coast. We hope that he will use his powers to designate national monuments where congressional inaction has stymied important conservation legislation,” said Ann Morgan, regional executive director of NWF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center.

The Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents to protect our nation’s natural and historic treasures. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to use it when he established Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906. Places that have been protected by the law include the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge in Utah, the Black Canyon in Colorado and Muir Woods in California.

This pots was updated to correct that Point Arena-Stornetta was declared part of a national monument, not wilderness.

Legislation has been introduced to make Colorado's Brown Canyon a national monument. Photo by John Fielder
Legislation has been introduced to make Colorado’s Brown Canyon a national monument. Photo by John Fielder.

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