Ensuring a natural legacy

At the White House on Monday, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation to establish a San Juan Islands National Monument. The ceremony punctuated years of agitating by small business owners, conservationists and members of Congress to preserve 955 acres of pristine landscape that wings from Patos Island to Turn Point on Stuart Island.

Yes, it took geologic time to enact. Yes, Congress should have found common cause to safeguard less than two square miles of a natural gem (insert overused gridlock metaphor here.) For now, the back story is only noise. It’s time to rejoice.

The document’s preamble could have been scribbled by John Muir (or Muir crossed with an Interior Department bureaucrat.) “Within Washington State’s Puget Sound lies an archipelago of over 450 islands, rocks, and pinnacles known as the San Juan Islands,” the proclamation reads. “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.”

As The Herald opined last summer, the save-it imperative for a San Juan Islands monument had been reduced to hurry-up-and-wait. The coarsening of political rhetoric and congressional inertia built a firewall. House Republicans, notably Eastern Washington’s Rep. Doc Hastings, put the kibosh on all federal lands bills. No protections. No movement. (An enlightened exception has been Rep. Dave Reichert, who continues to breathe life into the Dan Evans wing of the Republican Party.)

Gaining access to the San Juan Islands National Monument is critical to the local community. The windfall from wildlife viewing, kayaking, and hiking ripples out to the regional economy when visitors rent boats, shop, and frequent hotels. It’s why 150 San Juan Island businesses and the local chamber signed a letter encouraging Obama to heal the divide and exercise his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act. With a pen stroke, the president made whole a longed-for national designation.

Congressional champions merit special recognition, specifically Rep. Rick Larsen and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

“Today’s designation marks the culmination of years of citizen-driven efforts to protect these cherished public lands,” Cantwell said. “This presidential national monument declaration ensures these federal lands will remain protected, accessible and better managed to accommodate continued visitor use and enjoyment.”

We need to know the music of the beaches and the woods, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote. So it is forever with the San Juan Islands National Monument.

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