Town Hall: Cantwell, Salazar focus on San Juans conservation area

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will join Sen. Maria Cantwell Saturday, in Anacortes, to host a town hall about the ongoing progress to conserve and protect the San Juan Islands.

In September, Cantwell introduced legislation in Congress under which roughly 1,000 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in San Juans would be designated a National Conservation Area. Similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Rick Larsen in September as well.

The meeting begins at 11 a.m., at the Anacortes Senior Center, 1701 22nd Street.

The Department of the Interior highlighted the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area as one of 18 backcountry areas deserving protection by Congress as national conservation areas or wilderness areas. The proposed San Juan Islands RCA includes public land on dozens of islands that attracts large numbers of visitors each year due to the islands’ unique cultural and natural resources.

Saturday will mark Salazar's third recent trip to area in support of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which tasks the Interior Department with engaging in a dialogue to learn how it can be a better partner in supporting community-driven conservation efforts. Salazar toured the San Juans in April, 2011.

“The San Juan Islands are home to unique cultural and natural resources and a great example of the types of land we want to conserve for the benefit of all Americans,” Salazar said in April. “One of the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative is to connect people to the beauty and richness of our public lands and ensure we protect places like the San Juan Islands for generations to come. This legislation is an important step in the ongoing dialogue with our partners in the Northwest as our nation develops a 21st century conservation agenda.”

Following that tour, Salazar asked that the BLM coordinate with a committee of local groups to prepare for a transition in management. An NCA designation intends to ensure that  BLM managed land would remain in a natural state and publicly accessible. Those lands currently lack a long-term comprehensive management plan.

In July, Cantwell and Larsen were in Friday Harbor to gather public input on the NCA effort as part of a "community listening session". Nearly 30 people attended that session, which included BLM staff and local public officials.

“Washingtonians should be proud of this national recognition of the unforgettable natural treasures of the San Juan Islands,” Cantwell said in July. “More than 700,000 tourists come to experience these scenic parcels every year. And with visitor traffic increasing, it’s time to have a clear management plan in place to protect these crown jewels. This locally-driven plan will ensure these cherished lands remain protected, accessible to the public, and better managed to accommodate continued visitor use and enjoyment.”


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