Almost every hand went up when Senator Maria Cantwell asked how many people want the Bureau of Land Management property in San Juan County protected. Agreement on how to accomplish that wasn't so conclusive.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Cantwell held a town meeting in Anacortes Satuday, February 25 to listen to citizens' opinions about creating a National Conservation Area in the San Juan Islands. Scheduling conflicts made it impossible for the meeting to be held in the islands.
A NCA would protect the land in perpetuity. Without the NCA there is nothing to stop the federal government from selling any of the 1,000 acres of BLM land in San Juan County.
Mitchell Hill, 325 acres adjacent to English Camp, was on the verge of being sold to a private developer, before an Act of Congress championed by Cantwell, Representative Rick Larsen and Senator Patty Murray made it part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park.
In order for the BLM land to become a NCA, legislation must be approved by Congress. Both Larsen and Cantwell have introduced bills into the U.S. House and Senate, respectively. Cantwell told the audience at the meeting, it may happen next year or in ten years to pass, or never.
The other way to protect the land is by the stroke of a presidential pen. The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the President authority to designate national monuments.
"The president won't do it unless that is what the community wants," said Salazar. "Bottom line we won't do it unless it is the will of the people.
At the meeting, San Juan County Council member Jamie Stephens emphasized the programs only affect federal lands.
"This is not about the federal government coming in and buying a single acre of other land," said Salazar.
Some people did not want the federal government involved. One person said, "Let us run our islands, let us enjoy what we got."
Another said it felt like "some kind of stealth" deal.
One person said, "I'm not afraid you'll take us over. We are really glad this is happening.
Another said, "I feel this legislation is great, it puts it (protection) in writing."
The plan for management of the BLM lands through either of the two programs will be the result of a community-driven planning process.
Asked what advantages an NCA or Monument status would bring, Salazar replied more resources. Currently the only BLM employee working on the lands is "warrior" Nick Teague, who Salazar praised for the incredible job he's done. More information on websites, signage are possibilities. According to DOI staff, structures are not built.
At the end of the meeting, while almost everyone supported protecting the land, there wasn't a clear mandate for Salazar to ask President Obama to sign an executive order.
At the Tuesday, February 29 county Council meeting, Tom Cowan presented an update with a new twist on the process. The local committee is now gearing up to generate community support to make it possible to obtain National Monument status.
The twist is the status would be based on the language of the proposed NCA legislation.
Cowan said a three-member delegation, including Stephens, is traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with Cantwell, Larsen and Dept. of Interior staff. He said they've been told the idea is workable.
Much of the BLM land is on Lopez - the area encompassing Chadwick Hill, Watmough Bay and Point Colville. Also BLM land are Iceberg Point and Cape St. Maries.
Cattle Point, including Cattle Point Light, is the only BLM land actually on San Juan Island. Tiny areas near San Juan Island are Kanaka Bay Islands, Kings Rocks, Dinner Island Rocks, Danger Rocks, Mitchell Bay Rocks, Mitchell Bay Mud Rocks, Mud Island, Mitchell Bay Rocks, Gus Island and Posey Island.
Patos Island and Little Patos are also BLM land as is Turn Point on Stuart Island. Both Patos and Turn Point's lighthouses have been restored.
BLM land near Orcas Island includes Skull Rocks, Harbor Rock, Victim Island, Indian Island, Twin Rocks, Beach Haven Rocks and Point Doughty.
Near Shaw Island are several tiny islands including: Blind, Broken Point and Parks Bay.
By Decatur Island, the BLM land includes Reads Bay, Dot, Fauntleroy Rock and Lopez Pass islands.
On Henry Island, Kellet Bluff is BLM land. The rest of the holdings are tiny islands or large rocks.