Obama expands California Coastal National Monument; Point Arena-Stornetta lands protected

A few hours’ drive from San Francisco, dramatic rocky coastline buffets fields of vibrant wildflowers near the juncture of the Garcia River and the mighty Pacific Ocean. Between the surging waves and stately lighthouse visible nearby,  this area may be northern California’s quintessential oceanside landscape. 

Fittingly, President Barack Obama declared this place, California’s Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a part of the California Coastal National Monument on March 11, the tenth national monument creation since the beginning of his administration. Thanks in part to the support of people like you, a beloved piece of the Mendocino coast is getting the protection it deserves.

The much-anticipated announcement means that about 1,665 acres to the north of the town of Point Arena will be preserved for future generations under the authority of the Antiquities Act, a favorite conservation   tool of presidents of both parties for more than a century.  It is the first land-based expansion of the monument and will increase access for visitors, with the entire area falling under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.

 “President Obama has responded to local communities in California with an important addition to our national system of public lands, and for that we thank the Administration and the leadership of the California delegation,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “The expansion of the California Coastal National Monument provides spectacular public access for visitors to enjoy the rugged coastal beauty of Point Arena, where migratory waterfowl, Coho and Chinook salmon and several endangered species find refuge.”

In late 2013, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands for herself, hosting a public listening session on prospective conservation measures. She came away from the experience touting the administration’s opportunity to “create a world-class destination for outdoor recreation and the study of coastal resources, and to strengthen the local economies.”

In January, President Obama used his State of the Union address to pledge that he would “protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” Although Congress recently passed a bill protecting designated wilderness area for the first time in years, a broader pattern of dysfunction among legislators has made presidential leadership all the more important. The new monument is a sign that the president fully intends to make good on his promise.

An ocean vista in the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. National monument status for this special place is a long time coming, as several bills have been introduced to protect the area over the last few years. Legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman passed through the House last July, but Sen. Barbara Boxer’s companion version never received a vote.  Credit: Bob Wick (BLM).

Another view from the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. In a Feb. 2014 op-ed co-authored with Rep. Chris Gibson (NY), Rep. Huffman lauded the area as offering “some of the best ocean views in Northern California” and expressed hope that the administration would protect the area as a national monument in the absence of Congressional action. He also invoked the example of President Theodore Roosevelt, a great conservationist who signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906. Credit: flickr, D Smith.

The Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands contain more than 1,000 acres of scenic coastal habitat harboring wildlife including sea lions, beavers, shore birds and raptors. Perhaps the two most famous threatened species found in the area are Behren’s silverspot butterfly and the Mount Point Arena mountain beaver Credit: flickr, D Smith.

Historic Point Arena Lighthouse, which is bordered by part of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands and visible from the monument area. The original version of the lighthouse was built nearly 150 years ago, and reconstructed almost from scratch after a devastating earthquake in 1906. It now reportedly draws about 40,000 visitors per year, and is a striking and iconic photographic subject. Credit: flickr, Hendo101.

“Sea pink” flowers in springtime bloom in a Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands meadow. One of the future monument’s most outstanding features is its sheer variety of habitat, including wetlands, meadows and sand dunes. Credit: flickr, Jeff Fontana (BLM California).

An iris grows in the national monument area. Wildflowers like these abound in the meadows along the wind- and wave-carved coast and add to the area’s popularity among sightseers.  Credit: flickr, Jeff Fontana (BLM California).

Replete with gorgeous landscapes, it’s no mystery why Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands are a hit with tourists. During Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s 2013 visit to the area, she said she saw “first-hand how important this area is for the community and for its economy – from tourism to outdoor recreation.” Credit: flickr, D Smith.

Secretary Jewell and her delegation whale-watching at Point Arena-Stornetta in 2013. Indeed, as she suggested, the area has long been massively popular in nearby communities, partly owing to its importance as a hub for the tourism that supports thousands of jobs along the Mendocino coast. Credit: flickr, Congressman Jared Huffman.

In 2013 testimony before Congress, the president of Mendocino County’s contracted tourism bureau said the region draws about 1.75 million visitors per year, mostly from the Bay Area and Sacramento region. Credit: Bob Wick (BLM).

Point Arena, which lies at the southernmost tip of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. The nearby town has a population of only a few hundred, and depends heavily on the economic boost provided by tourism in the area. Credit: flickr, Chen Yang.

Due to the natural variety of Point Arena-Stornetta, it also provides an “outdoor classroom” setting for nearby schools, including a community college and state university. Credit: Bob Wick (BLM California).

Local support for the monument designation has been strong including among business leaders in Mendocino County. In recent months, excitement mounted  over a possible announcement. Credit: flickr, CodePurple.

Use of the Antiquities Act is historically common, but it has become politically fraught in recent years. Several bills have been introduced to strip the ability of the president to set aside national monuments, and some have demanded that all monument designations be made subject to congressional approval. Nonetheless, many lawmakers have voiced their support for the venerable process, which has protected areas as varied as Fort Sumter National Monument (South Carolina) and Giant Sequoia National Monument (California). It remains popular among the public at-large.

With the protection of Point Arena-Stornetta as a national monument, the next obvious candidate to be so enshrined is New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region, which also enjoys robust local support.