Obama grants protections to 'spectacular' Mendocino County coast

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday, using his executive authority to bypass Congress, added about 1,665 acres of "spectacular" Mendocino County coastline to the California Coastal National Monument.

It is the first onshore addition to the to the monument, established in 2000 by President Clinton to protect 20,000 small islands, reefs, rocks and pinnacles off California's coast.

“In my State of the Union address, I said that I would use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” Obama said. "Our country is blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It’s up to us to protect them, so our children’s children can experience them, too."

The action, which would prohibit activities such as energy exploration, drew criticism from Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who called it "an unnecessary use of excessive presidential power."

Noting the Republican-controlled House last year easily passed the California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act, Hastings said, "Instead of using imperial powers, the president should pick up the phone and call upon Senate Democrats to take action." Senate bills can draw controversial amendments that can bring down the measures, however.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who pushed for the designation and attended the White House signing ceremony, cheered the action.

"It is fitting that President Obama is following in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt in using the Antiquities Act — the same law used to protect the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty — to protect this jewel of the Mendocino Coast for future generations," he said.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who has hiked the so-called Point Arena-Stornetta lands added to the monument, called the area "simply breathtaking." She warned last fall that the administration would not "hold its breath forever" waiting for lawmakers to act on conservation legislation. Among the bills pending in Congress is one to expand Yosemite National Park by about 1,600 acres.

It is the 10th time Obama has used his executive power to establish or expand a national monument.

Congressional Republicans have been angry with presidents bypassing Congress to put land off limits to activities such as mining and have been critical of the creation of more national monuments when Washington has a backlog of unfunded park maintenance projects.

California’s Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Huffman urged Obama early last year to use his executive authority to protect the land, citing strong local support for it to be added to the monument.

Huffman expressed hope the expansion would draw more visitors to the monument and boost the region’s tourism economy.

The Point Arena-Stornetta lands provide important habitat for harbor seals, Steller sea lions and an occasional elephant seal, which visitors can catch sight of from the vantage of the terrace's western bluffs, according to the president’s proclamation.  The area also includes habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species including coho salmon, steelhead, the Point Arena mountain beaver, and the Behren’s silverspot butterfly.

"I hope I get a chance to roam around this amazing landmark sometime in the future," Obama said.

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