On Tuesday, President Obama held a ceremony at the White House to announce his use of executive authority to expand the California Coastal National Monument (CCNM) to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on the Mendocino Coast. This is the first land-based addition to the CCNM and permanently protects more than 1,660 acres of beach, bluffs, and the Garcia River estuary. The area is home to rare and endangered species such as coho salmon, steelhead, the Point Arena mountain beaver, and the Behren’s silverspot butterfly. The Mendocino Coast of California was recently picked for the number 3 spot in the New York Times “52 Places to Go in 2014.” This is the 10th national monument designated by President Obama. For comparison, President Clinton created 19 new monuments and enlarged three others, while President George W. Bush used his power under the Antiquities Act just 5 times.
While Obama has been criticized in the past for his reluctance to declare monuments, there appears to be new momentum in the administration to conserve. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced five designations before leaving office last year, and in November, his successor Sally Jewell delivered a major agenda-setting speech on conservation that challenged Congress to pass the many backlogged conservation bills that are pending, saying that “President Obama is ready and willing to step up where Congress falls short.”
Obama confirmed this in his state of the Union speech, saying — “I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Even Congress seems to be hearing the message. Although the previous 112th Congress became somewhat notorious as the first in decades not to protect a single new acre of public lands, last Tuesday, Congress passed a bill to set aside more than 30,000 acres of wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
“The President’s decision to protect this stunning section of California’s coastline shows his commitment to helping communities protect the lands and waters they love,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “It also sends a clear signal to Congress that — as the President has already made clear — he is not going to continue to wait while dozens of parks and wilderness bills remain stalled, year after year.”
“The President is right to use his authority to ensure that America’s most special places are protected for everyone to experience and enjoy.”
Despite the new momentum to conserve, Obama still has a long way to go to establish balance between conservation and fossil fuel development on federal lands. From the beginning of Obama’s first term through 2013, 7.3 million acres of public lands were leased to oil and gas companies, while just 2.9 million acres were permanently protected.
The newly-designated area has long been considered for special protection. In July, the House unanimously approved Rep. Jared Huffman’s (D-CA) proposal to add the area to the California Coastal National Monument, but subsequently the bill was left to languish in the Senate.
“I am thrilled that President Obama has preserved these pristine and breathtaking coastal lands,” said Congressman Huffman. “Thousands of new visitors each year will flock to see this gateway to the Coastal National Monument. As they enjoy some of the best ocean views in Northern California, they will also provide a significant boost to the local tourism industry, already Mendocino County’s biggest employer. I thank President Obama for bringing this land into permanent protection as a National Monument.”
“This is great news for small businesses, because entrepreneurs know protecting our natural assets is one way we can enhance the financial success of small businesses and local economies.” said John Arensmeyer, Founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. “Small business owners in the West strongly believe the designation of additional national parks and monuments enhances local jobs and the economy.”
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, the Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho and the Greater Canyonlands in Utah are on the top of conservationists’ wish lists for future monument designation.
In response to the president’s action Rep. Rob Bishop released the following statement. “The legislation was held up in the Senate so the president could usurp the congressional process,” said Bishop. “In other words, the House was punked by the president. Had the Senate done its job, the bill would have been considered and passed under regular order. There was broad support for the measure.”