Supporters of a two-year campaign to extend national monument status to a breathtaking stretch of southern Mendocino coastline are abuzz with speculation that President Barack Obama might use his executive authority to make it happen, and that he might do so soon.
A key reason for the anticipation is the president's pledge two weeks ago during his State of the Union address to use his office "to protect more of our pristine federal lands."
A Washington Post story five days later added to the speculation when it named the Stornetta Public Lands near Point Arena as one of two areas Obama was preparing to designate national monuments. The Feb. 2 story cited unnamed sources not authorized to speak on the record because a final decision had not been made.
The news comes after assurances from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who toured the Stornetta lands last fall and said the president was prepared to preserve unique, sensitive landscapes if Congress failed to act.
The convergence of administrative support and possible presidential action has left Stornetta advocates more optimistic than ever that the landmark property will soon be part of the California Coastal National Monument.
"I do have a sense of confidence," Scott Schneider, president and chief executive of Visit Mendocino Inc., said from Washington, D.C., last week, after a meeting with representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Department of Interior staff.
"Nobody has any indication of when it would happen, but everyone seems to think that it will happen," Schneider said.
North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman said the monument hopes were not misplaced.
"I think we're all encouraged and enthusiastic that it's going to happen," said Huffman, D-San Rafael.
The three-plus months that have elapsed since Secretary Jewell's visit to Point Arena would make the timing for an announcement about right, given experience with other monument designations, said Meghan Kissell, communications director for Conservation Lands Foundation's National Monuments Campaign in Washington.
"It's not a hard and fast rule," Kissell said. "However, we have seen a pattern of three or four months between these public meetings and designations."
The 1,665-acre Stornetta Public Lands at the mouth of the Garcia River already is protected from development and open to the public thanks to a series of land acquisitions begun in 2004 by a coalition of conservation agencies.
Overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management, it offers spectacular bluff-top views and rugged coastal features carved from the landscape by wind and water.
The campaign seeking its inclusion in the 1,100-mile-long California Coastal National Monument is driven by both a desire to raise the profile of the area, and thus spur the local tourism economy, and a wish to enhance the level of protection afforded the area.
No public opposition has surfaced to the plan.
But while a bill introduced last year by Huffman and co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, easily won approval from the House of Representatives in July, a companion Senate bill by California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein has not moved since it was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources 13 months ago.
Boxer's office says the bill has been slowed, in part, by logistical considerations.
The delay has fueled efforts to persuade the White House to take action utilizing the 1906 Antiquities Act under which then-President Bill Clinton first created the coastal marine monument. The designation protects an estimated 20,000 off-shore sea stacks, islands, pinnacles and exposed reefs. All but three of the past 19 presidents have taken action under the act.