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Obama to preserve San Juan key sites

Sat., March 23, 2013

Move will bestow monument status on 1,000 acres

President Barack Obama plans to designate a national monument in the San Juan Islands, handing a long-sought victory to island residents and members of Washington’s congressional delegation.

Obama will sign a proclamation Monday creating the monument, a White House official said Thursday.

The action will provide permanent protections for nearly 1,000 acres of undeveloped federal lands on the islands, including Lopez Island’s Iceberg Point and Chadwick Hill and the Cattle Point Lighthouse on San Juan Island.

The news was hailed by members of Washington’s congressional delegation who had worked for years to preserve the lands.

“We’re very pleased because it’s such an incredible unique spot in the United States. … It will be permanently protected for generations to come,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in an interview.

The lands that islanders had sought to preserve are already federally owned and overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. While there were no apparent plans for the government to sell or develop the properties, the monument designation offers virtual certainty they will remain protected in perpetuity.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., credited “years of persistence” by environmental and business leaders who built a coalition to campaign for the monument.

The San Juan Islands monument is one of five the president will designate Monday. The others are Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico; First State National Monument in Delaware; Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; and Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio.

The Delaware monument, commemorating the state’s history and preserving about 1,100 acres near Wilmington, is the first step toward creating a national park in Delaware, the only state not included in the national park system. The project is a longtime priority for Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware.

The largest site is Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, where Obama will designate nearly 240,000 acres for protection. The site includes wildlife habitat valued by hunters and anglers; rafting, camping and other recreation, and is prized by the region’s Hispanic and tribal groups.

The president’s authority to create national monuments was given by the Antiquities Act of 1906, first utilized by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. There are now more than 100 national monuments across the country.

The San Juan Islands will become the third national monument in Washington, joining Mount St. Helens and Hanford Reach.

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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