Opinion

Conservationists calls on council to back protection for BLM lands

From left: Jamie Stephens, Asha Lela, Tom Reeve in Washington D.C., lobbying on behalf of permanent protection of BLM land in the San Juan Islands. - Photo courtesy of Islander for a San Juan Island National Conservation Area
From left: Jamie Stephens, Asha Lela, Tom Reeve in Washington D.C., lobbying on behalf of permanent protection of BLM land in the San Juan Islands.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Islander for a San Juan Island National Conservation Area

By Mike Sato/Special to the Journal

San Juan Country citizens Asha Lela, Tom Reeve and Jamie Stephens visited the Washington Congressional delegation and the Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C. earlier this month to discuss local efforts to permanently protect BLM lands in the islands.

“It was a great time to visit the nation’s capitol with cherry blossoms blooming, but more important, we were very positively received at the offices of all 11 members of the state delegation,” said Asha Lela of Lopez Island.

Lela and Reeve and other concerned citizens have been working for several years on federal legislation seeking permanent protection for BLM lands in the San Juan Islands with a strong community voice in their management.

“In our visits with offices of both Republicans and Democrats, we met with no pushback and much encouragement,” said Reeve, also a resident of Lopez. ”But we also were told by every office that the odds of getting our bill passed through the House of Representatives this year are near zero.”

A U.S. Senate committee held a hearing on the bill March 22 and Senator Maria Cantwell spoke to the importance of protection and the benefits of the designation. A BLM deputy director testified that the designation would prevent these public lands from being sold and would not have any impact on private lands.

Even with progress on the Senate side, it is unlikely the bill will pass in the House. The group also met with BLM Director Bob Abbey, who reiterated the agency’s support for the group’s work. In light of congressional deadlock, Abbey repeated U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's willingness to help achieve the goal of the legislation by proposing a presidential proclamation.

Abbey explicitly said that BLM would have a voice in the content of any such proclamation and that they would use the letters they received, particularly from the San Juan County Council, as guidance in building that content.

“Through presidential proclamation we have an incredible opportunity for a very short period of time to make as our reality permanent protection of our BLM lands and protecting the economic benefits to the community associated with them,” said Jamie Stephens of Lopez, who also serves as a county council member.

Such a proclamation, said Stephens, should be based on the existing legislation and should:

— Set the purpose of the proclamation to conserve, protect, and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources of the National Monument.

— Define the lands covered as the BLM lands in the San Juan Archipelago.

— Direct BLM to work closely with the community to develop a management plan.

“I’m encouraging all residents in the islands to write a letter or call the San Juan County Council before April 3 and express their support for permanent protection of BLM lands in the islands and local community involvement in their management,” Lela said.

The county council is scheduled to vote on a position supporting protection through presidential proclamation on April 3.

For more information, contact : Islanders For A San Juan Islands National Conservation Area, www.SanJuanIslandsNCA.org

— Editor’s note: A resident of Lopez Island, Mike Sato is former North Sound communications director for People for Puget Sound.

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