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San Juans reportedly on list of proposed national monuments

The San Juan Islands are on a list of proposed national monuments. Other national monuments in Washington state: Hanford Reach and Mount St. Helens. - Journal file photo
The San Juan Islands are on a list of proposed national monuments. Other national monuments in Washington state: Hanford Reach and Mount St. Helens.
— image credit: Journal file photo

The San Juan Islands have been designated a national wildlife refuge and a scenic byway. Next, they could become a national monument.

Fox News reported today that the Obama administration is considering 14 sites, including the San Juan Islands, for national monument designation. The report was based on Department of Interior documents leaked to a Utah congressman and obtained exclusively by Fox News. The mostly public lands include Arizona deserts, California mountains, Montana prairies, New Mexico forests, Washington islands and the Great Basins of Nevada and Colorado — totaling more than 13 million acres.

National monuments are created under the federal Antiquities Act. The president has the authority to designate national monuments without the approval of Congress. Fox News reported President Obama is expected to choose two or three sites from the list, depending on their size, conservation value and the development threat to each one's environment.

President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, on Sept. 24, 1906. He established 18 national monuments, although only nine still retain that designation.

All told, there are 100 national monuments in the U.S. They are managed by six federal agencies in four departments. Two of those 100 national monuments — Hanford Reach National Monument and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument — are in Washington state.

The report states of the San Juan Islands: "This cluster of hundreds of islands along the Nation's northern border contains a wealth of resources. The deep channels between islands and placid, reef-studded bays are home to myriad marine species and support major migratory routes for orcas. The islands contain healthy pine and fir forests which protect a wide variety of wildlife species. The outstanding scenery and a historical lighthouse support diverse recreation opportunities. This area also supports sailing and sea kayaking opportunities that are unique in the Northwest."

In addition, the San Juan Islands are home to several species that are listed as endangered or threatened, among them the killer whale and humpback whale, the bald eagle and the marbled murrelet, and the Steller sea lion. The common loon, peregrine falcon and gray whale are considered sensitive species. Twelve other bird, insect or mammal species are candidates for protection.

Other sites on the list of possible national monuments:
Arizona
— Northwest Sonoran Desert

California
— Berryessa Snow Mountains
— Bodie Hills
— Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (expansion)
— The Modoc Plateau

Colorado
— Vermillion Basin

Montana
— Northern Prairie

Nevada
— Heart of the Great Basin

New Mexico
— Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve
— Otero Mesa

Oregon
— Owyhee Desert

Utah
— Cedar Mesa region
— San Rafael Swell

Peter Dederich, superintendent of San Juan Island National Historical Park, which falls under the U.S. Interior Department, was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment.

Any proposed designation is expected to be controversial. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, co-founder of the Western States Coalition and chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, told Fox News, "We will do what ever we need to make sure Congress is fully informed and fully aware of this action. This process should be open and transparent and President Obama should go though Congress and do it this the right way, not by presidential fiat.

He added, "In a country as dependent on foreign oil as this one, this kind of action on public lands is simply unacceptable."

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