Protecting California Coastline as National Monuments

Drakes Estero
Drakes Estero photo by Point Reyes Science on Flickr

This week I'm letting Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton talk about an issue dear to him: Drakes Estero and the need for more National Monuments.

Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore is a gorgeous place. An amazing variety of plants, birds, and wildlife call the seashore home. As a bonus, it’s one of those breath-taking areas not far at all from a major city -- this one being about 25 miles northwest of San Francisco.

The Sierra Club campaigned to establish the national seashore in 1964, and successfully lobbied Congress to designate Drakes Estero as wilderness in 1977. But there was a catch. Much of the seashore was designated as the Phillip Burton Wilderness in that year, but Drakes Estero had a temporary non-wilderness commercial use present which was due to expire in 2012, so Congress declared the estuary potential wilderness and directed the Secretary of Interior to make it a fully protected wilderness as soon as possible. .

That event happened on December 1,when U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar allowed the lease for a commercial oyster farming operation to expire as scheduled and designated Drakes Estero as a marine wilderness area -- the first of its kind on the West Coast. Wilderness is a rare and steadily shrinking resource in the continental United States, and marine wilderness is even less common.

In fact, Drakes Estero is the only large wild public estuary suitable for marine wilderness designation to be found between Mexico and Canada. We’re thankful for this move by Secretary Salazar and the Obama administration. Any action we can take to protect more of our nation's wilderness is a significant addition to the wilderness legacy we're leaving for future generations.

Although no one rejoices to see a local business close, this transition has been planned and promised for decades. Naturally, we are sympathetic to the workers affected by this decision and are therefore pleased that Secretary Salazar has allowed the company 90 days to wind down operations, and that he has also directed the National Park Service to use all legal tools, including financial and relocation assistance, to help transition the employees.

Meanwhile, we continue to encourage President Obama to expand his wilderness legacy and continue permanently protecting our land and water. One way to do that is by designating more national monuments across the U.S. so our kids and grandkids can enjoy these places in the years to come.

One potential national monument is only a two-hour drive from Drakes Estero, in Mendocino County. The Stornetta Public Lands are another beautiful area composed of coastal wetlands, dunes, tidepools, cypress groves, meadows and more. Visitors can see a variety of birds and other wildlife there as well.

Permanently protecting Stornetta would be a boon to the local economy. The area would continue to attract tourists who love recreational activities like hiking and fishing. According to one study, tourists drawn to Mendocino County in part because of places like Stornetta have helped create nearly 5,000 jobs and have generated more than $110 million in economic activity.

And this is just one example of an amazing U.S. landscape that would benefit from a national monument designation. I’m fortunate to have Drakes Estero and Stornetta so close to my home here in California -- living near such natural splendor is something I don’t take for granted.

© Google Maps
Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore is very close to a major city -- San Francisco.

Everyone deserves the same opportunity to live near beautiful, protected lands and waterways. President Obama, we urge you to leave a lasting outdoors legacy by naming more national monuments. Protect these areas for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

Tags: California | Environmental Policy

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