Protecting natural places | Editorial

A recent purchase proposal by the San Juan County Land Bank has caused landowners to worry about trespassing and islanders to raise flags about the environment.

The property in question is known as the Clure property on Lopez, and is needed to reach the nearby beach, which currently has very limited public land access because it’s surrounded by private property. Property below the state beach’s high-tide mark of 7.1 feet is public, and property above it is private and belongs to the landowners. The entire beach is 450 feet long.

If the purchase goes through, some nearby homeowners will lose their private beach access and face possible lower property values and increased beach traffic. This proposal leads to the question: how do we balance tourism, land rights and conservation?

The land bank aims to promote people on their lands while also educating the public about their responsibility when visiting these precious places we call home. Their mandate is to preserve in perpetuity areas in the county that have environmental, agricultural, aesthetic, cultural, scientific, historic, scenic or low-intensity recreational value and to protect existing and future sources of potable water.

Although private landowners can operate with conservation values, we do not believe that private landowners are necessarily the best stewards of fragile places.

We believe in the Land Bank’s mission, and feel it is an ideal protector of natural spaces. Landowners are not subject to the same scrutiny and are also vulnerable to make mistakes. We applaud the Land Bank’s efforts to promote hiking trails in places that give visitors and islanders a chance to take in the beauty of our natural surroundings.

By buying the Clure property, the Land Bank is continuing its conservation efforts, and a portion of the beach is already public. However, we are concerned by the high level of dissatisfaction from many homeowners in the area. We wonder if a compromise would be to move ahead with the purchase but not allow and promote public access along the entire beach. Lopez Island already has a handful of incredible public beaches – unlike Orcas Island, which has an embarrassingly low number.

We hope the property owners and the Land Bank can reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all. If the general public does not have access to places of wonder and beauty, they will have less motivation to save these places.