National Monument One Big Step Closer


Including Coast Dairies in the California Coastal National Monument makes good sense.

by Eric Johnson

Aug. 7, 2015—Everyone who’s been working toward the designation of Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, including us, had been hoping and expecting that U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein would introduce a bill this week. The surprise in Wednesday’s announcement was that the magnificent 5,800-acre property is to be included as part of the California Coastal National Monument.

There could not be a more fitting outcome.

When Pres. Bill Clinton established the California Coastal National Monument in 2000, which covered the entire 1,100-mile California coastline, it protected only tiny offshore islands, rocks (including Greyhound Rock) and exposed reefs. Nevertheless it was extremely controversial.

The huge, fragmented coastal monument was being recommended, along with four others, by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who was in the midst of a successful campaign to revolutionize the Bureau of Land Management. (The other four were a million acres on the Grand Canyon’s northern rim, two prominent mesas near Flagstaff, and Pinnacles, 75 miles to our southeast.)

At the time, many environmentalists referred to BLM as the “Bureau of Livestock and Mines” for its bias toward exploitive industries. Babbitt, a former Governor of Arizona with deep roots in the rural West, intended to take significant BLM lands and permanently protect them.

The tool Babbitt used to achieve this is the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to change the status of federal lands that have “scientific, historic or archaeological significance” via executive order. (While development forces howled at this alleged abuse of executive power—some things don’t change—every president except Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan has designated at least one national monument.)

What is now known as the National Conservation Lands system comprises more than 31 million acres of the BLM’s most ecologically and culturally significant properties. In addition to National Monuments, these include National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, National Scenic and Historic Trails and Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Babbitt’s initiative gave these properties protections and stature similar to National Parks, National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges.

We got a chance to visit with Babbitt when he was here to deliver a keynote at the celebratory launch of the national monument campaign, at Kaiser-Permanente Arena. He had spent the day touring Coast Dairies and was impressed.

“It exceeds any description I’ve read,” he said. “It’s a remarkable juxtaposition—huge open terraces, old sea-level terraces that are quite distinct. And then you have these deep erosional canyons where the redwood forests are, and then there are madrone and other vegetation, all merging together at the top as you hike up the watercourse.”

(Read the rest of the interview to hear Bruce Babbitt’s frank thoughts about national monuments and the threats they face.)

A Local and National Treasure

Making the Coast Dairies property part of the National Conservation Lands system, and including it in the California Coastal National Monument, is the very best thing that could happen. It’s good for locals—we will have a new natural sanctuary, environmental and cultural classroom, and recreational playground. It’s good for the growing band of nature lovers everywhere, who will get to experience the wonders of the Central Coast. And it will ultimately be good for neighboring communities, as the property is much more likely to receive the resources needed to keep it safe and clean with National Monument designation.

To that point: Boxer’s bill specifically calls for a “community-based management and access planning model” that will allow locals to participate in determining what can and can’t happen on the property. Rick Cooper, regional manager for the Bureau of Land Management, says that planning process will lead to a specific management plan.

This week’s developments give us more reason to hope that we will soon have a national monument up the coast. The biggest expansion to the California Coastal National Monument occurred last year, when Pres. Obama designated the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. Also a former dairy, the property, 1,665 acres near Mendocino, was the first onshore land to be included in the coastal monument.