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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Snails, fish, insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
March 25, 2013
San Juan Islands, Washington

Today President Obama is signing an Executive Order establishing the San Juan Islands National Monument. This act will permanently protect about 1000 acres of beautiful and dramatic land along the coast of the these islands, located in the Salish Sea of northwestern Washington state. This has been a long time in the works, and we islanders are celebrating, as are other folks who love and value nature!

I mentioned this in a Bucket comment a few days ago, so here's a little of the background and some photos of newly protected places on Lopez island, where I live. A map and much more detail of the proposal process for anyone interested can be found here. A dedicated local grassroots group has been pursuing this for several years, and it's been supported by state and county governments, and local businesses along the way too.

iceberg from marker
Iceberg Point
The 1000 acres are already owned by the federal government, under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A list of the BLM properties with their specific ecological and cultural features can be found here. The new Monument status permanently removes this land from any future commercial exploitation. Without this status, the BLM's multi-use mandate authorizes it to allow mining, drilling, energy development, grazing and other intensive uses, or to sell it to private interests. The BLM has been a good steward and partner in prioritizing recreational use so far in the county, but that could change if the agency administrators decided to prioritize development. With today's action the BLM will now manage these acres as National Conservation Land, in close partnership with local groups, for conservation and protection.

There are two routes to Conservation Land status: one is legislative, the other administrative. Both our Senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Congressman Rick Larsen, promoted legislation toward this goal, but it stalled in 112th and 113th Congresses. The other route is by presidential action. The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the president authority to "protect objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments.

The land protected includes 75 sites. Three of the largest single pieces are on Lopez Island, and include Iceberg Point, seen in the photo above, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south (left). Iceberg has a few rocks and reefs offshore where birds nest and feed, as in the photo below. In the distance is Cattle Point on San Juan Island, which has a lighthouse now also in Monument status, along with lighthouses on Patos and Stuart Islands.

birds off iceberg
Gulls on a rock off Iceberg Pt.
The open bluff slope supports lots of perennial wildflowers. These open areas were maintained by Native Americans for hundreds of years, to promote the growth of edible plants like camas. Conservation Land management allows for wildland fire operations and removal of invasive plants, so a decision may be made to halt the encroachment of Reed Canarygrass and Douglas fir into the open prairie, which is considerably smaller in area than it was when I moved here 26 years ago.
bordiaea
Brodiaea
camas
Camas
chocolate lily
Chocolate Lily
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Watmough Bay is another large piece. The photo below is taken from the top of Chadwick Hill. This diary describes the remarkable natural history and geology of Watmough and Chadwick in more detail.

watmough from chadwick
Watmough Bay
A third large piece is Point Colville, which has a diverse mix of habitats, from spruce bog to cactus bluff, lots of lichens, and old growth Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir. One of these days, I'll post some pictures of this beautiful place. In the meantime, a few of the wonderful forest plants:
yew bark
Western Yew (scaly bark)
rattlesnake plantain
rattlesnake plantain (an orchid) in moss
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The inhabited islands are far outnumbered by the rocks and reefs around us, some of which are dry at high tide.

heron on harlequin rock
Great Blue Heron on Harlequin Rock
stonecrop
Stonecrop
These many islands, rocks and reefs are essential refuges for marine birds and mammals. When I'm out there kayaking, I see lots of life: seals and otters, eagles, ducks and alcids, turnstones, herons, oystercatchers. Kelp beds and rocky shores are full of invertebrate life, and the bigger rocks have native plant communities.
seals
Harbor seals
aleck rock
Swirl Rocks from Aleck Rock
This is just the tiniest glimpse of what is now protected on Lopez Island alone. There are treasures on the other islands too. You can understand why we are so thrilled to have this come through at last! You may have had similar experiences with "saved" nature.

So, what's up in your neighborhood? Encounters with the natural world, signs of seasonal transition? Insects waking up? Slugs beginning to fill out? Mysterious footprints? All observations are welcome in the Bucket!

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Mon Mar 25, 2013 at 08:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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