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Originally published October 3, 2012 at 4:37 PM | Page modified October 3, 2012 at 4:37 PM

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Op-ed: Designate a national monument in San Juan Islands

Designating 955 acres of undeveloped land on the San Juan Islands would protect quality of life and create a natural legacy, writes guest columnist Jamie Stephens.

Special to The Times

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IN the San Juan Islands, momentum is growing behind a little-known but vital conservation issue, one with big impacts for our entire region.

A coalition of advocates — 156 local businesses, hundreds of residents and political leaders from around the state — is fighting to save 955 acres of beautiful undeveloped land, dozens of small islands, reefs and historical sites currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The group is asking that these lands be declared a national monument. They include Lopez Island’s Iceberg Point and Chadwick Hill, the Cattle Point Lighthouse on San Juan and the lighthouse on northern Patos Island. Their designation would forever keep them in public ownership with a strong local voice in their management.

Preserving the land would mean big things for the islands. Protecting this natural splendor also means protecting the quality of life for island residents, their kids and grandkids. It is about more than taking up an environmental cause and creating a natural legacy to be handed down for generations to come. Safeguarding these regional treasures is also about the islands’ local economy and making sure that it remains strong.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock here every year to enjoy the pristine beauty of the San Juan Islands. Kayakers paddle from island to island, children attend camps, and vacationers dine in restaurants, relax at inns and shop in local stores. The economy in the San Juan Islands depends on the tourism and recreation businesses fostered by the unique natural beauty here.

Why should you spend time thinking about this issue and consider lending your support to the folks in the state’s northwest corner? Because what is good for the San Juan’s tourism and recreation industry is beneficial for all of us. Hundreds of local and regional businesses also depend on the kayakers, sightseers, campers, sailors, boaters, fishermen and others who frequent shops and recreation businesses en route to the San Juan Islands.

Maintaining the beauty and accessibility of these lands is critical to our regional economy and to our entire region’s way of life, just as it is for island residents. Furthermore, we’ve seen time and time again that national-monument designations, like national parks, attract visitors. Having a national monument in our region will increase our ability to attract outdoor enthusiasts and the jobs they support.

Outdoor recreation plays a major role in Washington’s, and our local and regional, economy. More than 100,000 Washington jobs depend on the continued preservation and protection of the lands and waters that make the industry possible. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that recreation — hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing — contributes $730 billion to the U.S. economy and supports 6.5 million jobs.

In Washington state alone, outdoor recreation supports 115,000 jobs and contributes $11.7 billion to the state economy. Many of these jobs are local and our region depends on them.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has voiced his support and has called on the president to declare a national monument in the San Juan Islands.

Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, Gov. Chris Gregoire, the San Juan County Council and I are strong supporters of the effort to protect these lands through either congressional or presidential action.

On the local level, Republicans and Democrats have united around this incredible opportunity. Join us in stepping forward and calling for the monument designation that will benefit our region and our state for generations to come. Please help preserve these regional treasures by sending a message to the White House at the Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area / National Monument website: http://www.sanjuanislandsnca.org/act.

Jamie Stephens is vice chair of the San Juan County Council.

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