America’s Newest National Monument Protects San Juan Islands in Washington’s Puget Sound
Today, President Obama signed proclamations providing permanent protection for five new National Monuments, including Washington’s San Juan Islands. The President’s order, under the authority given to him by the Antiquities Act of 1906, permanently protects about 1000 acres of BLM land in 60 locations in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. It is a culmination of years of collaborative effort and widespread public support for preservation in the San Juans.
The proclamation begins, “Within Washington State’s Puget Sound lies an archipelago of over 450 islands, rocks, and pinnacles known as the San Juan Islands. These islands form an unmatched landscape of contrasts, where forests seem to spring from gray rock and distant, snow-capped peaks provide the backdrop for sandy beaches. Numerous wildlife species can be found here, thriving in the diverse habitats supported by the islands. The presence of archeological sites, historic lighthouses, and a few tight-knit communities testifies that humans have navigated this rugged landscape for thousands of years. These lands are a refuge of scientific and historic treasures and a classroom for generations of Americans.”
In a statement, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said, “The local community has worked for years to care for the Bureau of Land Management’s holdings in the San Juan Islands. This designation will ensure the permanent protection of these spectacular lands, and for all of us who appreciate the beauty and recreational opportunities that the San Juan Islands offer. I commend President Obama and Secretary Salazar for their commitment to the protection of these treasured resources for years to come.”
“The islands have long been a place of contention. The United States and Great Britain almost went to war in 1859 over who owned San Juan Island after an American settler slew a Hudson’s Bay Company pig. That incident was about more than British bacon as it heightened tensions over a disagreement about where the exact border between nations was, with both the U.S. and Britain claiming all or part of the islands. Warships converged and a joint occupation of San Juan Island was negotiated. One of those rattling his saber was a young military officer stationed there named George Pickett, later famous for leading a Confederate charge at Gettysburg.
The dispute was resolved in favor of the United States in 1872 by the arbitrator, Kaiser Wilhem I. The course to the new National Monument was partly set by the emperor of Germany, with an assist from a Confederate war hero.
Over the years there have been major fights over development, aquaculture and oil tanker traffic. One of the signal battles was waged back in the mid-1960s when a Seattle land-use lawyer fought to keep an aluminum plant from being built on Guemes Island. That attorney’s name was John Ehrlichman, who went on to Watergate infamy.”
The new National Monument status means that the parcels are assigned to BLM‘s National Conservation Lands, requiring permanent protection and preservation and prevents future development or sale. Congressional efforts to make the designation have been blocked by Congressional gridlock, despite support from state. local, and national political leaders. Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, along with Congressman Rick Larsen all supported the designation.
Looking at the map of the new monument properties you see names like Skull Island, Massacre Bay Rocks, Blind Island, Danger and Dinner Rocks, Pudding and Posey Islands, and Iceberg Point. They fit with the stories we heard of opium smugglers, rumrunners, Indian encampments, massacres, drownings, hermits and old homesteaders.
These protected San Juans bits aren’t generally the places where folks build summer homes and saunas, or contemplate siting aluminum plants, but they are vital parts of the ecosystem — a bit like tide pools in reverse, small refuges for land-based flora and fauna amidst the Salish Sea. They’re also beautiful, lonely, mysterious, quirky, and brimming with character that cannot be manufactured, only experienced.
Thank you President Obama, and congratulations to the San Juan islanders whose long hard work made it happen.