A Victory for the Mendocino Coast

Point Arena- Stornetta Public Lands in California
© Sierra Club

This column is by Rep. Jared Huffman, Congressman for California's 2nd District.

The environment and economy of the North Coast just scored a big victory. Last Tuesday, President Obama designated the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument, protecting these pristine and breathtaking coastal lands. This landmark event is a testament to the power of a committed and engaged community.

President Obama's executive order protects more than 1,660 acres of the Mendocino coast, home to Great Blue Herons, Peregrine Falcons and the Laysan Albatross. This complex and fragile ecosystem includes habitat for endangered species like the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren's silverspot butterfly. More than two miles of the Garcia River and the estuary are also protected - good news for our salmon and steelhead fisheries.

Protecting this national treasure isn't just good for the environment - it's a huge win for the local tourism industry, already Mendocino County's biggest employer. The California Coastal National Monument, established by President Bill Clinton nearly 15 years ago, is one of the most-viewed, but least-visited National Monuments in America. Though it spans more than 1,100 miles of California coastline, few are able to visit the 20,000 small islands, rocks, and exposed reefs that make up the monument. As the first land-based addition to the California Coastal National Monument, this week's designation provides a gateway for visitors to experience the Monument and see some of the best ocean views in Northern California.

National Monuments bring tourists from around the world to shop at local businesses, dine at restaurants, and stay at hotels, strengthening the local economy and spurring job growth. In Mendocino County, 74 percent of tourists visit the region's public lands, bringing an estimated $314 million in annual economic activity to the region. The potential benefit to the local economy is just one of the reasons why the campaign to protect this amazing stretch of the Mendocino coast has had such broad support - from State and local elected officials, the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians, conservation groups across the country, and local businesses and civic leaders. This broad, team effort was critical to our success.

My predecessor, Representative Mike Thompson was an important part of that team. He initiated the bill to include this area as part of the Coastal National Monument. When redistricting shifted Rep. Thompson's new district to the south, he passed the torch to me.

I am proud to continue the coastal protection work that this district demands and deserves. The very first bill I introduced as a Congressman was to protect this land. Last July the House of Representatives unanimously approved my bill - so far the only conservation bill of its kind to pass the House in the 113th Congress. Our two California Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, supported this effort in the Senate.

Last year, the Obama administration laid the groundwork for this historic designation when Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined me and other community leaders for a hike on the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. It isn't often that a Cabinet Secretary visits - and it's rarer still that one comes to discuss expanding a National Monument in our backyard. We held a public meeting where she heard tremendous support from the local community for adding these breathtaking lands to the California Coastal National Monument.

What an honor it was to attend the signing ceremony last week in the Oval Office, flanked by several of the local leaders who championed this proposal, including Leslie Dahlhoff, former Mayor of Point Arena; Larry Stornetta, the former land owner of a portion of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands; Merita Whatley, Manager of the Point Arena Lighthouse; Eloisa Oropeza, Tribal Chairwoman of the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians; and Scott Schneider, President and CEO of Visit Mendocino County Inc.

But the enduring significance of the President’s action is far greater than that ceremony. The National Monument ensures that our children and grandchildren will always be able to hike along the bluffs and watch whales migrate just off the shore. It is fitting that President Obama followed in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt by using the Antiquities Act - the same law used to protect the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. This jewel of the Mendocino Coast is a worthy addition to the California Coastal National Monument, and I’m thankful that the President agreed.

Tags: California