Obama expands two western national monuments, sets aside preserves to recognize history of quest for racial justice

President Barack Obama, acting as his time in office winds down to further his noteworthy record of advancing public land conservation, moved Thursday to enlarge two existing national monuments in the West and established three national monuments in the South to recognize the long struggle for racial equality in the United States.

Obama adjusted the boundaries of California Coastal National Monument in California and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon and northern California. Both national monuments are on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior.

“The BLM manages some of the nation’s wildest and most sacred landscapes, including more than 800 areas that have been protected through congressional and presidential action,” Neil Kornze, the director of BLM, said. “We’re proud to be charged with stewarding these incredible lands for future generations, including today’s additions to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument. The BLM looks forward to continuing and expanding our work with local communities to ensure successful management of these special places.”

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California Coastal National Monument. Image courtesy BLM, photo by Bob Wick.

Obama’s proclamation expanding California Coastal National Monument tracked the language of the American Antiquities Act of 1906 and pointed to the “historic or scientific interest” of six areas that will now be included in it: Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, Piedras Blancas, and Orange County Rocks and Islands. The first three of those listed sites are in Humboldt County, the core of the Golden State’s “Redwood Coast,” while the others are located, respectively, in Santa Cruz County, San Luis Obispo County, and Orange County.

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Trinidad Head appears on the upper right of this photograph. Image courtesy Wikimedia, photo by TrinidadMike.

Trinidad Head, in Humboldt County, is a high promontory known as the site where Spanish explorers landed in June 1775 to claim the land now known as California for King Charles III. Portuguese sailors had discovered the site even earlier, in 1595.

The site has been the location of a picturesque lighthouse since  1871 and now also serves as location for scientific research. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration established a meteorological laboratory there in 2002, while NASA has studied trace atmospheric gases from the location since 1995. Thirteen acres of the site are now included within the boundaries of California Coastal National Monument.

Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch is 12 miles south of Eureka. A property of high ancestral significance to the Wyot Tribe, it was used by the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in the late 1800s. The military developed a base for coastal lookout operations there during the 1940s, but now there are no buildings on the site. Visitors to the property can see the Pacific Ocean, Eel River Delta, and south spit of Humboldt Bay.

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This photo shows some of the remote Lost Coast Headlands in central California. Image courtesy BLM, photo by Bob Wick.

The Lost Coast Headlands are located 13 miles south of Waluph-Lighthouse Ranch. They are of geological value because the sedimentary rock underneath the hills, bluffs, and forests include marine fossils dating from Pleistocene Epoch. The areas’s biodiversity includes bobcats, gray fox, and mountain lions, as well as a variety of raptors, a steelhead run, and a population of threatened California red-legged frogs.

Named for an area bypassed by U.S. Highway 1, the Lost Coast area of which the headlands are part lost population beginning in the 1930s. The nearby Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and King Range National Conservation Area also aim to preserve the scenic region, known for its black sand beaches, spectacular vistas and tall redwood trees.

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This photo provides a view of the coastal lands of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property now included within California Coastal National Monument. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Most of the land known as Santa Cruz County’s Cotoni-Coast Dairies are not now open to the public. The 5,785-acre property was obtained by The Trust for Public Land in 1998. That organization then donated 407 acres to California State Parks and most of the rest to BLM in 2014.

The Cotoni-Coast Diaries property spans six watersheds, all of which are considered to be viable Pacific salmon habitat. Three of the streams on the property – Laguna Creek, Liddell Creek, and San Vicente Creek – actually host salmon or steelhead spawners.  The mammal population is also diverse. As described in Obama’s proclamation:

“The diversity of the uplands vegetation in Cotoni-Coast Dairies supports a rich wildlife community including a vast and varied mammalian population. Among the many species inhabiting Cotoni-Coast Dairies are California voles, dusky-footed woodrats, black-tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, and gray fox. Evidence also suggests that both bobcats and mountain lions hunt here.

“Visitors to Cotoni-Coast Dairies may be able to catch a glimpse of a variety of avian species, including black swifts, orange crowned warblers, American kestrels, Cooper’s hawks, white-tailed kites, and peregrine falcons. In the riparian areas, one may encounter Wilson’s warblers, downy woodpeckers, and tree swallows, among others. Various bat species, including the Townsend’s big-eared bat, can be seen darting overhead at dusk.”

The land given by The Trust for Public Land to California was later opened to the public as Coast Dairies State Park.

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Elephant seals rest on the beach at Piedras Blancas. Image courtesy Scripps Institute of Oceanography, photo by Wolf Berger.

Piedras Blancas, about 40 miles north of San Luis Obispo, is known for its elephant seal rookery and its historic lighthouse. The site has long been important to native Americans because, for at least 3,000 years, it was a location for trading between different cultures. The explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claimed it for Spain in 1542 and, three-plus centuries later, a lighthouse was built there in the 1870s.

Elephant seals are not the only pinniped visitors to Piedras Blancas. California sea lions and harbor seals are also common there. Whales and dolphins can be seen from the beaches. The region also serves as habitat for a variety of birds, amphibians, and reptiles and boasts a broad array of plants, including at least 70 native species.

The sixth area included in Obama’s expansion of California Coastal National Monument is in southern California. The Orange County Rocks and Islands are important habitat for a variety of sea birds, including the formerly endangered brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), and marine mammals. They also provide a unique view of coastal geology for visitors to the coast.

Designated by Congress during the 1930s as sites for lighthouses, the Orange County Rocks and Islands were the only offshore California lands that had not previously been included in the California Coastal National Monument.

California Coastal National Monument was established in 2000 by President William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s proclamation emphasized that his decision to create the preserve was motivated principally by a desire to protect marine wildlife habitat.

Obama expanded the monument in March 2014 to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a scenic coastal area in Mendocino County that includes dunes, prairies, riverbanks, shelves, tidepools, and the mouth of the Garcia River.

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Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Image courtesy BLM.

Obama’s other national monument expansion announced Thursday impacts another Clinton-era designation. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, first set aside in 2000, is now about 48,000 acres larger.

Focusing on the region’s significance to an array of wildlife, Obama’s Jan. 12 proclamation explained that the uniquely abundant biodiversity in the Cascade-Siskiyou region provided a convincing reason for the expansion:

“Cascade-Siskiyou’s biodiversity, which provides habitat for a dazzling array of species, is internationally recognized and has been studied extensively by ecologists, evolutionary biologists, botanists, entomologists, and wildlife biologists. Ranging from high slopes of Shasta red fir to lower elevations with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and oak savannas, the topography and elevation gradient of the area has helped create stunningly diverse ecosystems. From ancient and mixed-aged conifer and hardwood forests to chaparral, oak woodlands, wet meadows, shrublands, fens, and open native perennial grasslands, the landscape harbors extraordinarily varied and diverse plant communities. Among these are threatened and endangered plant species and habitat for numerous other rare and endemic species.”

The President also highlighted the imperative of providing space for animal populations to move, specifically mentioning the major features that will now be included in the national monument: Horseshoe Ranch, the Jenny Creek watershed, the Grizzly Peak area, Lost Lake, the Rogue Valley foothills, the Southern Cascades area, and the area surrounding Surveyor Mountain.

Among the many species found in this area are hundreds of flowering plants, several ferns, and at least six trees. Obama also cited the presence of 14 raptors, including the threatened northern spotted owl, a large variety of songbirds and avians dependent on marshes and other freshwater resources, and a long list of amphibians, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles.

Obama also noted the region’s significance to native Americans and as a path for the Applegate Trail.

The two western national monument expansions were not Thursday’s only invocations of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Obama also set aside three small national monuments in the south.

Each is aimed at  commemorating the sites of important events in the nation’s long quest for equal justice and equal rights and all three will be managed by the National Park Service.

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This photo shows the Freedom Riders bus in flames following an attack on African-Americans working to secure their Constitutional rights. Image courtesy National Park Service.

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, in Birmingham, Ala., and the Freedom Riders National Monument, in Anniston, Ala., pay homage to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, while Reconstruction Era National Monument in becomes the only component of the National Park System that aims to build public awareness of the post-Civil War era in which the federal government worked to integrate freed slaves into the national political and economic fabric.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” U.S. secretary of interior Sally Jewell said. “Now the National Park Service, America’s Storyteller, will forever be responsible for safeguarding the narrative of not only the sparks that ignited the Civil Rights movement but also the hope of the Reconstruction Era, which for far too long, has been neglected from our national conscience.”

With Thursday’s announcements Obama became the most prolific land and water conservationist of all American chief executives. He has designated or increased the size of 34 national monuments during his eight-year tenure, two more than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The total amount of acreage, including both land and ocean-based national monuments, that Obama has preserved is in excess of 550 million acres.

 

Bills to permanently block oil exploration off West Coast introduced

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Ocean waters near Heceta Head lighthouse in Oregon would be among those protected from fossil fuel exploration activity if a bill introduced by West Coast senators becomes law. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

California’s senior U.S. senator has introduced a bill that would permanently block fossil fuel exploration on the outer continental shelf along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The measure, sponsored by veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was introduced Jan. 4.

In her comments on the Senate floor on the day she introduced S.31 Feinstein highlighted the huge economic impact of coastal counties in California, explaining that they produce 80 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, and said the likely close proximity of any drilling to the beaches makes offshore energy exploration too dangerous.

“The fact is that those of us on the Pacific coast do not want any further offshore oil or gas development,” Feinstein said.

Wildlife conservation concerns are a powerful argument against energy exploration off the Pacific Coast. Among the marine animals that may be adversely affected by oil and natural gas drilling are a variety of sea birds and fish, orcas, otters, salmon, seals, sea lions, and migratory whale species (including blue whales).

Those wildlife resources have previously been harmed by oil extraction in the Pacific.

In 1969 a spill near Santa Barbara polluted the Pacific Ocean with about 3.36 million gallons of crude. That incident remains the most severe oil spill in California’s history and the third-most severe spill in American history.

The Santa Barbara oil spill killed thousands of sea birds and many dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions. The mortality rate among small marine organisms in the inter-tidal zone was as high as 90 percent.

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This graphic shows the extent of ocean and beach area impacted by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Map courtesy Wikimedia.

Despite the warning provided by the Santa Barbara oil spill, there are still 24 oil drilling platforms operating in ocean areas off the California coast.

In 1994 the Golden State’s legislature largely  precluded any future drilling leases in the six kilometer-wide band of Pacific waters under its regulatory control. The California Coastal Sanctuary Act allows leasing only if the “State Lands Commission determines that oil and gas deposits contained in tidelands are being drained by means of wells upon adjacent federal lands and leasing of the tidelands for oil or gas production is in the best interest of the State.”

The California State Senate passed a bill in 2015 that would have permanently banned all oil leases off the state’s coast. S.B. 788 was not considered by the state’s General Assembly (a body akin to the House of Representatives in most other states).

California’s State Lands Commission had stopped authorizing nearly all new leases after the Santa Barbara spill.

No fossil fuel exploration in waters of the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast subject to the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act has occurred since 1981. Congress included bans on leasing off California’s coast, as well as offshore of several East Coast states, in annual appropriations bills until 2008.

U.S. Presidents also included California’s (along with Oregon’s and Washington’s) coastal waters in exclusions from leasing included in executive orders. Presidents George H.W. Bush, in June 1990, and William J. Clinton, in June 1998, imposed a ban through 2012.

President George W. Bush lifted that ban by revoking those executive orders on July 14,  2008. He also said that he would veto any bill that continued the practice of banning leases off the coast of California and several other states.

President Barack Obama’s administration has returned to the long-time practice of keeping energy exploration activities away from California’s coast. The most recent five-year leasing plan for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management precludes any leasing off the Pacific coast of the continental U.S. between 2017-2022.

The factors weighing against energy exploration off the coasts of Oregon and Washington are largely the same as in California.

According to one 2015 report, Oregon’s rural coast region had more than 21,000 jobs directly dependent on tourism, which also generated more than $1.8 billion in economic activity in that part of the state.

As for fishing, the value of the Beaver State’s commercial onshore fisheries was more than $136 million in 2015, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, while spending on recreational fishing in coastal counties exceeded $68 million in 2014.

Washington’s coastal economy is similarly dependent on tourism and fishing. In 2011 tourism and recreation contributed about $3.4 billion to the Evergreen State’s “ocean economy,” while fishing is responsible for at least 16,000 jobs and half of billion dollars of economic activity in Washington.

Pacific waters off the coasts of the two northwestern states have not generally been considered likely to produce significant oil resources. In 1964 the Department of Interior issued leases for 2,400 square kilometers of ocean areas off the coasts of Oregon and Washington. Oil companies drilled 13 test wells before those leases expired in 1969.

In 1977 the Department of Interior ranked Oregon and Washington as being lowest among all potential lease areas in the country for “resource potential.” That assessment was essentially confirmed by a 2009 report by Environment America and Sierra Club, which concluded that the amount of oil and natural gas off the Oregon and Washington coasts is “miniscule.”

“The planning area is estimated to contain (i.e., undiscovered economically recoverable resource) approximately 0.3 billion barrels of oil and 1.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at recent price estimates, representing about 0.6% of total OCS resources for both oil and gas. At recent prices and usage, the oil and natural gas economically available from the Washington/Oregon planning area could supply the nation with 15 days of oil and 20 days of natural gas with a value of $26 billion.”

Oregon and Washington have nevertheless moved to toughen their laws on offshore energy development.

In 2007 Oregon imposed a three-year moratorium on new exlporatory activity and then, in 2010, extended it for 10 more  years.

Washington law forbids marine oil exploration only in the area “extending from mean high tide seaward three miles along the Washington coast from Cape Flattery south to Cape Disappointment, nor in Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and the Columbia river downstream from the Longview bridge . . .”

Feinstein’s co-sponsors include all of the senators representing the three west coast states covered by her bill: Democrats Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington.

The California senator’s effort to ban drilling off the Pacific coast is not the first attempt she has made. She has introduced similar bills in several previous Congresses. Nor is her bill the first Pacific coast state oil drilling ban to be co-sponsored by West Coast senators.

S.31 has been assigned to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee for consideration. Cantwell and Wyden are members of that committee.

Similar legislation, known as the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democrat Jared Huffman of California and 13 co-sponsors. They include California Democratic Reps. John Garamendi, Derek Kilmer, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Doris Matsui, Jimmy Panetta, Scott Peters, Jackie Speier, Eric Swalwell, and Mike Thompson, Oregon Democrats Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, and Washington Democrat Suzan DelBene.

 

Obama administration considering expansion of California Coastal National Monument

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This view is from the Stornetta Public Lands, added to the California Coastal National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2014. Image courtesy Bureau of Land Management, photo by Jim Pickering.

A senior official of the U.S. Department of Interior visited California last week to discuss a proposal to expand the California Coastal National Monument, indicating that the Obama administration may be considering a request by several of the state’s federal legislators to increase the preserve’s size.

Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze attended a forum in Cambria on Friday, along with U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and the leader of the state’s natural resources department, John Laird, to hear public input on the idea.

Kornze did not say whether the Department of Interior would recommend that President Barack Obama accept the suggestion by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Capps, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) to increase the size of CCNM by more than 6,000 acres.

“Designating each of these land areas as individual units of the larger National Monument will create a network of protected onshore federal coastal lands,” the Feb. 11 letter containing the proposal said. “These additions will provide improved access to the California Coastal National Monument and numerous benefits to the well-being of the land and neighboring communities, while providing important protections for these unique and historically important areas.”

The land suggested for the CCNM expansion is administered by BLM and is located along the coast in Humboldt, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo counties. Acreage that includes the Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area in San Luis Obispo County, Lighthouse Ranch and Trinidad Head in Humboldt County, the Cotoni-Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz County, and the Lost Coast Headlands would be part of the national monument if Obama accepts the recommendation.

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This image shows the view looking north from Lighthouse Ranch, toward the south spit of Humboldt Bay. Lighthouse Ranch is located on Table Bluff in Humboldt County, California. Image courtesy Bureau of Land Management.

Obama has the power to add to CCNM’s size. The American Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the chief executive the authority to designate public land that meets certain qualifications as part of a national monument:

“[T]he President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected . . . ”

CCNM was established by President William J. Clinton in 2000. Obama expanded it once before, in 2014, by adding 1,665 acres in Mendocino County.

Boxer and Capps are lead sponsors of legislation in both chambers of Congress that would give Congress’ imprimatur to the expansion they ask President Obama to proclaim. The bills are S. 1971 and H.R. 3565.

 

California legislature sends ivory ban bill to Gov. Jerry Brown

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkelo
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkelo

The nation’s most populous state may soon ban the import, purchase, sale, and possession of all products made from ivory and rhinoceros horn.

By a 47-21 vote, the state assembly sent the ban bill, AB 96, to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

The far-reaching measure would close a loophole in California law that exempted ivory products obtained before June 1, 1977.

The United States is thought to be the world’s second-largest importer of ivory products and two large California cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are locations that experience a high volume of trade in them.

A federal law called the African Elephant Conservation Act bans the import of almost all ivory, but that statute exempts ivory obtained before 1989.

There is no effective way for customs officials or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to determine the age of imported ivory.

That is the same problem that has impaired the effectiveness of California’s existing law. Because it is easy to declare that ivory in one’s possession was obtained prior to June 1, 1977, and it is difficult to prove otherwise, trafficking in ivory has continued.

About 100 African elephants are poached for their tusks each day and, between 2010-2012, about 100,000 of the animals were illegally killed in their native habitat.

The total number of African elephants has declined from at least several million individuals, and possibly tens of millions, at the beginning of the twentieth century to somewhere between 400,000-700,000 individuals.

The various species of rhinoceros are in deep trouble. Killing of individuals for their horn, which is valued in Asian cultures for medicine but which provides no medical benefit, has caused the reduction of the northern white rhinoceros to four individuals. The population of southern white rhinoceros, also native to Africa, is estimated at about 20,000 individuals, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, while all species of black rhinoceros number about 5,000. Two of the three Asian rhinoceros species – the Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses – are critically endangered, with total populations under 100 individuals.

Brown has not publicly said whether he will sign AB 96 into law.

Obama adds to California national monument

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Image courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

President Barack Obama has used his pen to grant additional protections to more than 1,600 spectacular acres along California’s Mendocino coast.

On March 11 Obama designated the Point Arena-Stornetta unit of the California Coastal National Monument.

“As some of you know, in my State of the Union address I talked about taking any actions that I could to ensure that this incredible gift of American lands, the natural bounty that has been passed on to us from previous generations, is preserved for future generations,” Obama said during a signing ceremony. “And I pledged to act wherever I could to make sure that our children, our grandchildren are going to be able to look upon this land of ours with the same wonder as we have.”

The country’s newest addition to the inventory of national monuments is situated along about 12 miles of the Pacific coast, near the tiny town of Point Arena. The Point Arena-Stornetta unit connects the beach in Manchester State Park to the town and includes the estuary of the Garcia River, cliffs, dunes, and meadows.

Rixanne Wehren, the coastal committee chairperson for the Sierra Club’s Mendocino Group, said that the new preserve is unique because of the undeveloped nature of the area’s coastline and the scenic features included within it.

“It has beautiful coastline resources, both based in the water and based on the land,” she said. “It also has one of the very few waterfalls that comes directly off the land into the ocean and many tide pools and near-shore habitats that are quite prolific with sea life, all observable from the shore.”

These picturesque magnets for tourists are not the only reasons the Point Arena-Stornetta unit has significant environmental value. It is also home to at least four threatened or endangered species, including Behren’s silverspot butterflyCalifornia red-legged frog, Point Arena mountain beaver, and snowy plover.

Salmon may also benefit from the new preserve. Chinook and coho salmon are native to the Garcia River watershed, as are steelhead. The chinook run is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, as are the region’s steelhead, while the coho stock is endangered.

While the protection of the coastal prairie and beach south of that river probably will not affect upstream impacts on the two endangered runs, advocates for conserving California’s fisheries lauded Obama’s move as a boost for public-private partnerships and recreational fishing.

“Designating the Point Arena-Stornetta public lands as a national monument is a no brainer, for fish and for people,” Brian Johnson, director of Trout Unlimited’s California Program, said.

Obama emphasized the environmental, educational, and economic value of the Point Arena-Stornetta lands at the signing ceremony.

“We are talking about over 1,600 acres of incredible coastline in California that reflects the incredible diversity of flora and fauna,” the president said before signing the document that invoked the Antiquities Act. “It is a place where scientists do research; where people who just want to experience the great outdoors can take advantage of it. It is a huge economic boost for the region.”

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management acquired most of the Point Arena-Stornetta land in 2005, when the family that had owned it for three generations sold 1,132 acres to the government for about $7.8 million. Other conservation efforts added 533 more acres in the immediate area to the BLM’s holdings.

Former President Bill Clinton established the California Coastal National Monument in January 2000. It protects more than 20,000 reefs, islands, and rocks that serve as important habitat for a variety of wildlife species.

The New York Times recently highlighted the Point Arena-Stornetta area as third among 52 places suggested for tourists to visit during 2014.

BLM must develop a management plan for the new national monument addition by March 2017.

NOTE: This post was updated on March 23, 2014.

Image courtesy Rixanne Wehren, GeoGraphics Maps & Photos
Image courtesy Rixanne Wehren, GeoGraphics Maps & Photos