Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently made a visit to Northern California, traveling from San Francisco to Point Arena to hear from members of the public on their vision for protecting the Stornetta Public Lands -- a truly one-of-a-kind place that overlooks the spectacular Mendocino coastline.
Take just a few steps onto the Stornetta Public Lands and you'll understand why so many people want to protect this special place. The Pacific Ocean is a dazzling blue, the sheer cliffs drop away to the waters below, and a hiking trail winds through the grasses with cypress trees leaning away from the wind.
Secretary Jewell went on a hike of the Stornetta Public Lands before she held a public forum that hundreds attended. As if perfectly timed, the fog cleared, the sun came out, and humpback whales breached offshore. As Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, commented, it was a Chamber of Commerce kind of day.
At the public forum, I shared with Jewell that local businesses strongly support presidential action to protect the Stornetta Public Lands by including them in the California Coastal National Monument. Earlier this year, more than 50 local businesses from our county signed a letter supporting the proposed expansion.
Currently, tourism throughout Mendocino County supports about 5,000 jobs and generates more than $20 million in state and local taxes. Expanding the California Coastal National Monument to include Stornetta would give a much needed boost to our economy. It would establish our region as the gateway to the California Coastal National Monument, and this distinction would attract more visitors to the area, helping to create jobs and sustain our economy.
At the public meeting, local community leaders, businesses owners, residents -- even local school children -- voiced their support for expanding the California Coastal National Monument to include Stornetta. People packed the hall until the last seat was taken and then filled the back of the hall, standing for more than two hours to share their support with the secretary.
Huffman and representatives of Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also participated in the event. Huffman has worked tirelessly to get legislation through the House of Representatives that would add Stornetta to the California Coastal National Monument. The senators are supportive of this effort and have introduced legislation to that end as well.
We are grateful for their leadership and their efforts.
Jewell noted that Congress, as a whole, has failed to advance a meaningful conservation agenda, including acting to protect the Stornetta Public Lands. Jewell expressed this exact sentiment at the public meeting, saying to rousing applause from the audience: "If Congress doesn't act, then the president will."
I couldn't agree more. The time to protect the Stornetta Public Lands is now.
At a time when our region is still working to recover from the recession, this designation is much-needed and urgent. Our communities need the economic boost that a monument designation would bring now.
I urge Jewell to take the message she heard in Point Arena back to President Barack Obama. I urge the secretary to share the resounding support she heard the business community. And I urge the president to act now to protect the Stornetta Public Lands.
Debra De Graw is chief executive officer of the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce, based in Fort Bragg.
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