Celebrating the islands | Guest column

Representative Rick Larsen kayaking at the monument dedication last year.

Representative Rick Larsen kayaking at the monument dedication last year.

by Rep. Rick Larsen

One year ago the persistence and vision of the San Juan Islands’ community paid off: nearly 1,000 acres of pristine lands and shoreline in the San Juan Islands became a National Monument.

While the landscape and wildlife remain relatively unchanged since the dedication ceremony last year, the new designation offers peace of mind for residents and visitors alike who can now enjoy the area’s ecological and recreational opportunities knowing they will be preserved long into the future.

San Juan Islands community members understand the importance of the environment in which they live. The preservation effort for the National Monument designation recognized the uniqueness of the islands and their role in Puget Sound’s health, from a small cluster of lichen right up to our resident orca whales. Community members also understand that the islands’ diversity drives tourism, an important economic engine for the region. The monument’s designation is a testament to the dedication and patience the community demonstrated in achieving its goal.

As the monument’s newly appointed manager Marcia deChadenedes recently said, managing the diversity of the monument would not be possible without the many partnerships between public and private organizations, as well as the commitment of volunteers from the community.

Partnerships have brought us to the one-year anniversary of the monument. Hundreds of individuals and organizations from both business and environmental interests joined together with the common aim of preserving this landscape. After community members set their sights on permanent protection for the area I committed to helping this citizen-driven effort, along with Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell. We met with many groups in the community to understand the preservation goal. And in the summer of 2011 the senators and I introduced the San Juan Islands National Conservation Areas Act.

Recognizing that unfortunate partisan opposition to the movement of any public lands legislation may slow the legislative process, the community kept pushing for a solution. In mid-2012 I requested that President Obama use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate these areas as a National Monument.

Under this “dual-track” strategy, Senators Murray and Cantwell, Rep. Suzan DelBene and I tried one more time legislatively to achieve preservation for the region by reintroducing the Act in early 2013.

A year ago, President Obama heard your voices and created the national monument.

The efforts at the federal level succeeded because of the unwavering dedication of the community, a community that will continue to be essential in maintaining the monument as Manager deChadenedes begins her leadership role and the Resource Advisory Committee comes together to create a management plan.

I look forward to continued partnership with local, state and federal organizations to carry out the national monument designation. Together we must make sure these lands remain in the care of the community as they always have been while keeping them open for both residents and visitors to enjoy.

At the dedication ceremony last year the importance of partnerships was underscored by the thoughtful words of two student attendees from the San Juans. Graham Crawbuck and Reyna Ellis expressed excitement about the strong turnout at the event, and hope for the lands that had brought them so much joy.

“You know, I feel so privileged that I get to live on this – on these beautiful islands, and that this land will be saved and preserved for my children,” Ellis said.

Just as I visited these islands with my family as a child, and as Graham and Reyna have done, I hope that my children will one day bring their kids to enjoy the San Juan Islands National Monument.