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Exciting Steps Forward for the Conservation of California’s Majestic Coastline

Stornetta_Rick HandsPhoto courtesy Rick Hanks, USDI BLM 

The Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands are located along Mendocino County’s south coast, and include more than two miles of Pacific coastline. Local Sierra Club activist, Victoria Brandon, helped us highlight this special place recently in Lay of the Land.  As Brandon describes, the lands contain natural bridges, tide pools, waterfalls, sinkholes and blowholes. The area is recognized not only for breathtaking scenic values, but also for outstanding natural resources that provide significant wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species.  The Stornetta landscape is also a perfect candidate for protection. Host to both beautiful views and a remarkable lighthouse, the Stornetta Public Lands are the highlight of H.R. 4969.  H.R.4969, the “California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act of 2012” would add 1,132 acres of the majestic Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument (established in 2000 by President Clinton).

Sponsored by longtime conservation champion, Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter has endorsed H.R. 4969 and along with staff in D.C. has strongly supported the Congressman’s recent push to get H.R. 4969 over the finish line. 

Recently the California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act had a successful hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands—a rare occurrence in a committee chaired by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), a vocal opponent to most public lands’ protection bills. With Sierra Club and other supporters in the gallery for hearing, we heard two witnesses provide positive and supportive testimony in favor of adding protections to the lands. Carl Rountree, the Director of the National Landscape Conservation System in the Bureau of Land Management, offered comments to support the monument expansion, stating the addition “will promote the continued conservation, protection, and restoration of these significant public lands … [and] will enhance the public enjoyment and understanding of the entire California Coastal National Monument.” A more personal account of the positive impact the Stornetta Public Lands have on locals was provided by Merita Whatley, manager of the local Point Arena Lighthouse, stating “our small businesses are still thriving partly due to the large number of visitors coming to visit Point Arena Lighthouse and to experience the natural beauty of Stornetta Public Lands.”

Following the lead of Rep. Thompson and a successful House hearing, Senators Boxer and Feinstein (D-CA) have now introduced companion legislation to H.R. 4969. The Senators also sent a letter to President Obama urging him to expedite the process by utilizing his authority under the Antiquities Act to name Stornetta Public Lands as an addition to the existing California Coastal National Monument. The supportive letter from Senators Boxer and Feinstein points out the advantage of having an onshore tract added to the monument (the current monument consists of 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs and pinnacles), including recreation opportunities and important habitat protection for local animals such as bobcats, Chinook salmon, and the endangered Point Arena beaver.

Support for the protection of this invaluable public land is growing; awareness of the need to preserve this vitally important habitat has been brought to the highest levels of the government.  We’re hopeful that Stornetta Public Lands can be permanently protected as a national monument in short order.  As Brandon points out in her earlier blog post, and is made clear by the support of the California delegation, “permanently protecting this important segment of the California Coast, and potentially offering the additional resources needed for more effective management, making Stornetta a national monument provides significant conservation benefits, with no negative consequences.” 

-- By Ani Kame'enui


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