Frequently Asked Questions

About the Land

Which lands will be protected?

  • Approximately 1000 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, in the San Juan Archipelago would be included in the San Juan Islands National Conservation Lands (either as a National Conservation Area or as a National Monument).
  • You may see references to "Protecting the San Juans" which seems to imply all land within the San Juan Islands. This proposal only applies to lands owned and managed by the BLM within the San Juan Archipelago, not to all lands in the San Juans or even to all lands owned and managed by the U.S. Government in the islands.
  • The BLM lands in the San Juans are largely in San Juan County, but some sites are in Skagit and Whatcom Counties. The map of the BLM lands in the San Juan Islands includes a green line indicating what they consider to be the extent of the archipelago - this effort applies to BLM lands within that boundary.
  • BLM's jurisdiction in the San Juan Islands applies to uplands only and does not include fisheries or marine resources.

How are these lands currently protected?

  • 400 of these acres are covered by management plans such as the Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) for Point Colville and Iceberg Point and 3 islands are under cooperative management with Washington State Parks. The remaining acres do not currently have a management plan and thus fall into a general management scheme for BLM properties in Washington State.

Why should these lands have protection? Is there a threat?

  • These lands are recreational, ecological, historical, cultural and scientific resources to the San Juan Islands' residents and visitors.
  • These lands are seeing heavier visitor use. Many of the areas are fragile, and planning is needed to accommodate this use while preserving the integrity of the sites.
  • Managing the BLM lands in the San Juan Islands as Conservation Lands will give long-term protection which can only be changed by an act of Congress or the president, making it less likely these lands could be taken out of public ownership. The San Juans Islands have seen the risk of public lands transferred to private ownership at Mitchell Hill on San Juan Island and at Odlin South and Lopez Hill on Lopez Island. When cherished public lands are threatened the community has had to rush and struggle to ensure that they remain public. One such struggle occurred in the 1970s when some of the local community pushed to block a proposed transfer of the BLM holdings at Point Colville and Iceberg Point on Lopez Island. 
  • Thankfully, there is no current threat of sale or development on the BLM lands in the islands. BLM has been a great partner to the community and we hope that will continue. This designation is our attempt to be pro-active to ensure that no threats develop in the future.
  • The BLM manages its 250 million acres throughout the U.S. for multiple uses, including mining, grazing, oil and gas development, and renewable energy production. BLM is required to consider proposals for such uses of its lands, unless the lands are explicitly withdrawn from such uses, and determine if they are in the public interest. A Conservation Lands designation would, in effect, define what the public interests are for these lands - keeping them natural and accessible and avoiding more destructive uses.
  • Some of the BLM lands in the San Juan Islands, but not all, have been temporarily withdrawn from certain uses. But those withdrawals will expire and there is no guarantee that they would be renewed to protect the lands from those uses.
  • A Conservation Lands designation would permanently withdraw these lands from uses not compatible with the recreational, ecological, historical, cultural and scientific value of these lands.
  • With BLM's current approach to managing these lands, there is little risk of a wind turbine at Cattle Point, a gravel pit at Watmough Bay or the land infrastructure for an ocean energy facility at Iceberg Pont. We hope it stays that way. By seeking a Conservation Lands designation, we are seeking to guarantee it.

About the National Conservation Lands managed by BLM

What are BLM's National Conservation Lands?

  • BLM's National Conservation Lands (formally known as the National Landscape Conservation System) currently include 887 areas and 27 million acres specifically designated as National Conservation Areas, National Monuments, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National and Scenic Trails, Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Areas. BLM states: "The mission of the National Landscape Conservation System is to conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that are recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values."
  • The National Conservation Lands are managed under a separate directorate at BLM, currently under Director Carl Roundtree and Deputy Director Robert Towne. That directorate is called "National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships."
  • In late 2011 BLM released a 15-year strategy to guide the National Conservation Lands which emphasizes "expanding and further developing community and local area partnerships." The strategy also emphasizes management of the Conservation Lands as an economic benefit to the local communities.
  • In 2012 BLM release policy manuals to govern day-to-day management of their Conservation Lands units.
  • We have a more information, including links to the 15-year strategy and policy manuals, on our National Conservation Lands page.

What are the benefits of a Conservation Lands designation?

  • Designation will elevate the status of the properties within BLM.
  • Conservation status would ensure the San Juan Island properties are appropriately managed to protect their unique qualities and not be grouped in with other lands managed by BLM’s for its multi-use mandate such as for mining, oil and gas exploration, off road vehicle use and grazing.
  • Designation will enhance funding opportunities within the BLM.
  • Designation would trigger a planning process that will emphasize local input into how these properties are to be managed by BLM.
  • Designation would set forth principles of sustainable conservation on these lands.
  • Designation would foster a stronger working relationship with other agency partners such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our San Juan County Land Bank and allow increased opportunities for sharing resources.

What is a National Conservation Area (NCA)?

  • A National Conservation Area is land designated by Congress to be a part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands program to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
  • The National Conservation Lands program currently includes 16 NCA sites and 5 similarly designated lands in 10 states.
  • NCA’s are a flexible designation meant to include significant local involvement in the stewardship of local but nationally significant landscapes.
  • We have more information about National Conservation Areas on our National Conservation Lands page.

What is a National Monument?

  • National Monuments managed by BLM are lands designated as part of the National Conservation Lands to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations which are designated by a presidential proclamation or by congressional legislation. The President of the United States can establish a National Monument by executive order using authority Congress conveyed in The Antiquities Act of 1906. Since 1906, the president and Congress have created more than 100 National Monuments. National Monuments are currently managed by several agencies including the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and BLM.
  • National Monuments managed by BLM include 17 National Monuments in eight western states. According to BLM, “These National Monuments encompass landscapes of tremendous beauty and diversity, ranging from rugged California coastline to vividly-hued desert canyons.”
  • If a presidential proclamation should be used to establish the Conservation Lands designation, our community has told the Interior Secretary that we would like to see the intent of the San Juan Islands NCA legislation used as the basis for that proclamation.

How does an NCA differ from a National Monument?

  • Other than the manner in which they are designated, there is essentially no difference between a BLM managed NCA and a BLM managed national monument.
  • Both are part of BLM’s National Conservation Lands and would be managed similarly by BLM with stewardship and conservation management opportunities.
  • NCA’s are enacted by congressional legislation. National Monuments are usually established by the president under authority from the Antiquities Act, though congress can also designate National Monuments.
  • Both provide all the benefits of a Conservation Land designation.
  • The BLM's 15-year Strategy for its Conservation Lands (on our National Conservation Lands page) uses the terms NCA and National Monument as equals as far as BLM is concerned.
  • The Conservation Lands Foundation has a policy handbook that discusses the Conservation Lands in depth. Here is a one page excerpt that discusses the differences between National Conservation Areas and National Monuments within that system.
  • For information regarding National Monument designations made my President Obama, see: Fort Monroe, Virginia and Fort Ord, California.

What uses would be allowed in the NCA or National Monument?

  • Uses would be allowed which correspond with the purpose of the Conservation Lands which is: "to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations." 
  • As to an NCA: Uses would be allowed which correspond with the purpose of the NCA which is: "to conserve, protect, and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources of the National Conservation Area." This language is directly from our legislation.
  • The legislation allows for wildland fire operations, tribal cultural uses, control of invasive species and noxious weeds and restricts motorized vehicles except for emergency or administrative use to roads as designated in the Resource Management Plan.
  • As to a National Monument: We have requested that the Department of Interior recommend to the president a proclamation which carries forth the intent of the existing San Juan Islands NCA legislation.
  • Once a Conservation Lands designation has been enacted, BLM will develop a specific management plan for the San Juan Islands NCA or National Monument and will seek public input and guidance as to how the properties should be used.

Will the Conservation Lands designation add new lands to the existing properties or extend regulations over nearby private property?

  • No, the NCA bills do not legislate acquisition of new public lands. And a National Monument based on that same legislation would not call for land acquisition. The Conservation Lands designation will only impact lands managed by BLM. No regulatory authority will extend over private lands.

How is the Conservation Lands designation different from the BLM's current Resource Management Process?

  • The current BLM Resource Management Process underway for properties in the State of Washington covers over 425,000 acres, mostly in eastern Washington. The 1000 acres of San Juan Island properties are such a small part that they do not benefit in proportion to their value when they come under such a broad management plan.
  • BLM’s Resource Management Plans are administrative and subject to change while the NCA or National Monument designation provides for more permanent protection of these lands.

About the Designation Process

How is an NCA established?

  • NCAs are congressionally designated. Islanders for San Juan Islands NCA are working with Representative Larsen and Senator Cantwell to pass legislation to establish the NCA.
  • Islanders for San Juan Islands NCA are seeking a strong showing of local support from individuals, businesses and organizations.

What is included in the NCA legislation?

  • Congressman Larsen and staff sought input from local groups and individuals, tribal interests and local governments in drafting the legislation.
  • The legislation declares the purpose of the NCA "to conserve, protect, and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources of the National Conservation Area."
  • It defines the lands covered as existing BLM lands in the San Juan Archipelago. It does not call for additional acquisition and prohibits acquisitions except from a willing seller or donor.
  • It directs BLM to work with the community to develop a management plan and to create a citizens advisory council to assist in that work.
  • It requires that the management plan only allow uses that would further the purpose of the NCA and withdraws the lands from mineral lease and mining claim programs.
  • The legislation declares itself to be subject to valid existing rights, not enabling restriction of activities outside the BLM lands, not altering any tribal treaty rights nor limiting ability to fight wildfires or invasive weeds in the NCA.
  • We encourage you to read the legislation - it is straightforward.

How long does this take?

  • Timelines vary and range from a fast track of 1 to 2 years to a more typical 3 to 4 years - though there are no guarantees that any given bill will ever become law.
  • There is strong support for the San Juan Islands NCA legislation by Representative Larsen, Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray.
  • The bill has received a hearing in the appropriate senate subcommittee. Senate procedural mechanics may then stall the individual bill, but the Senate may consider an Omnibus Lands bill later in this congressional session which could contain the San Juan Islands NCA designation.
  • On the House of Representatives side, several supportive groups and individuals have requested a hearing on the bill in the House Natural Resources Committee. Representative Hastings of Yakima chairs that committee and to date has not been receptive to allow hearings on many lands bills. The possibility of this bill or an Omnibus Lands bill coming out of the House of Representatives this session is slim.
  • If the legislation does not pass in this congressional session, the Islanders for San Juan Islands NCA will ask our congressional delegation to re-introduce the legislation in the next session.

What happens if this legislation does not pass Congress?

  • Islanders for San Juan Islands National Conservation Area will make a strong effort to ensure long-term protection of these special lands through work with BLM, other governmental agencies, and other interested groups.

How is a National Monument established?

  • National Monuments are established by a presidential proclamation or by congressional legislation.
  • If established by Congress, the process and timing would be like that of an NCA designation.
  • If established by the President, the timing and process is set by the President's administration.
  • We have asked that any presidential proclamation be based on the existing NCA legislation.

How Can I Help?

  • Given that the NCA legislation appears to be stuck in congressional gridlock, the most effective thing you can do is encourage the White House to act now on a national monument designation.
  • Encourage your friends and neighbors to support permanent protection for BLM lands in the San Juan Archipelago.
  • Share your stories with us about these special places.
  • Join in groups providing on the ground support for the BLM properties in the San Juan Islands such as Keepers of the Patos Light, BLM Monitors, Lopez Island Conservation Corp. We have links to many of these groups on our Links page.
  • Join the Islanders for the San Juan Islands NCA.
  • Donate to the Islanders for the San Juan Islands NCA by making a contribution to the San Juan Preservation Trust or the Conservation Lands Foundation. Please designate your donation to the San Juan Islands NCA.
  • Contact us at P.O. Box 484, Lopez Island WA 98261 or info@SanJuanIslandsNCA.org

Who Are Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument?

  • Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument (a.k.a. Islanders for the San Juan Islands NCA) is a group of concerned citizens committed to ensuring long term protection for the BLM properties in the San Juan Islands. Steering committee members: Russel Barsh, Lincoln Bormann, Carla Chalker, Tom Cowan, Nancy McCoy, Cynthia Dilling, Linda Hudson, Asha Lela, Madrona Murphy, Bob Myhr, Sally Reeve, Tom Reeve, Tim Seifert, Dave Zeretzke
  • Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument thanks many individuals and the Conservation Lands Foundation for financial support.