LOPEZ ISLAND, Wash. - Some Washington residents say they know one simple thing President Obama could do to boost their local economy. They want him to designate part of the San Juan Islands as a national monument - and they say they've been waiting patiently.
Volunteers have helped the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintain several parcels of federal land on the islands, about a thousand acres total, for years. It includes three historic lighthouses, plus hiking trails, reefs and wildlife habitat.
Lopez Island resident Tom Reeve says the change wouldn't cost any federal dollars and the BLM would still manage the land. It just would be off the market for future sale or development.
"What we want to do is make sure we keep the landscape that makes the San Juans so appealing. This is an important part of that landscape so we're, in essence, defending the status quo more than making some sort of radical change."
The reelections of Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman Rick Larsen are seen as promising signs for the islands' preservation. The two have proposed making the land into a National Conservation Area. But Peter Dykstra, Pacific Northwest regional director with The Wilderness Society, says those bills have languished in Congress for months.
"This Congress is close to being the first Congress in decades to not pass federal public land protection legislation. Nothing is moving, particularly on the House side."
All it would take is a stroke of the presidential pen to boost the recreation value of the scenic San Juans, adds Dykstra.
"And then what it does is, it really helps stimulate local economies and local businesses. So, this is one of those situations where the federal government can do something simple and without cost, and really help turn our economy around."
Obama has recently designated other national monuments in California and Colorado, and that offers hope for supporters of the San Juan Islands proposal. In the past year, local businesses and officials and conservation groups have all asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to champion the idea of national monument designation.