Obama expands California Coastal National Monument, increases access for Americans

Elephant seals at Pierdras Blancas, by Mason Cummings

Since the year 2000, the rocks and islands off California’s 1,100-mile coastline have been protected as the California Coastal National Monument — as well they should be. It’s a breathtaking area that includes crucial habitat for seabirds, seals, sea lions and other wildlife. But, for the most part, the monument was inaccessible to most visitors — only to be viewed through binoculars. Until now.

For the second time in his administration, President Obama has expanded the California Coastal National Monument, this time adding thousands of acres onshore and permanently protecting six extraordinary locations. He made the proclamation the same day he expanded Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

“These national monument expansions are an investment in our environment and an acknowledgement that healthy communities need access to nature and outdoor activity. Our shared lands and waters sustain the remarkable quality of life and economy of the West”

“These national monument expansions are an investment in our environment and an acknowledgement that healthy communities need access to nature and outdoor activity. Our shared lands and waters sustain the remarkable quality of life and economy of the West,” said Dan Smuts, senior director for the Pacific region office of The Wilderness Society.

Help us defend the Antiquities Act to make future monuments possible

Piedras Blancas, by Mason Cummings

According to the Bureau of Land Management, President Obama’s 2012 designation of Fort Ord National Monument, also in California, helped increase annual visitation by about 60 percent. Designation of these new additions to the California Coastal National Monument is expected to bring more staff to help manage increased maintenance and public safety needs associated with more visitors.

Sites newly added to California Coastal National Monument:

  • Trinidad Head (Humboldt County) is a 60-acre stretch of rocky headland jutting into Trinidad Harbor, featuring a lighthouse and spectacular views of sea stacks — tough, erosion-resistant rock formations off the shoreline. The area is also culturally significant to local Native American communities, with several archaeological sites here and in other spots added to the monument.
  • The Lost Coast Headlands (Humboldt County) features a Cold War-era Navy surveillance post and a variety of plant and wildlife habitat covering the coastal bluffs south of the mouth of the Eel River. Here you can find grasslands, coastal scrub, woodland and several freshwater creeks and ponds.
  • Lighthouse Ranch (Humboldt County) offers exceptional panoramic views of the Eel River Delta, the South Spit of Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The historic Table Bluff light station, for which Lighthouse Ranch is named, first opened in 1892. The station and its iconic fog signal building have been removed, but the area is still a popular tourist site.
  • Cotoni-Coast Dairies (Santa Cruz County) is an important coastal foothill habitat for species including the rare California red-legged frog and peregrine falcon. Currently, four registered ancestral Native American archaeological sites have been documented on the property, but much of the area is unexplored and likely to contain other sites of cultural importance. Monument status will enable further formal archaeological surveys, as well as preserving places that are highly significant to living Ohlone Indian descendants.
  • Piedras Blancas (San Luis Obispo County) is a renowned scientific research area, also famous for its historic lighthouse. It is home to a variety of marine mammals, including elephant seals, sea otters, dolphins and whales. The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery is of special interest, one of just seven in the world, and one of two that are accessible by land. It is one of the top wildlife viewing experiences in the U.S., drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world each month. Native Chumash and Salinan tribes also hold cultural ties to this stretch of extraordinary rocky shoreline and varied landscape.
  • Rocks and Islands (Orange County) includes small islands and other geologic formations that provide important roosting habitat for cormorants, brown pelicans and other seabirds. This is also a unique place where seals and sea lions can temporarily take to the land (known as “haul-out” areas).

Long journey to expand California Coastal National Monument

The California Coastal National Monument we know today is the product of years of effort. It was first designated by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and in 2014, President Obama added about 1,665 acres near the town of Point Arena to create the first onshore access to the monument.

Senator Barbara Boxer and Representatives Lois Capps, Anna Eshoo and Jared Huffman worked for years to further expand the monument in the six areas described above through congressional action before President Obama was moved by local support to act. These lawmakers hosted a public meeting in September 2016 with Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze and local elected officials, who heard directly from hundreds of supporters about the need to protect these remarkable areas. Wilderness Society supporters also submitted comments in favor of monument expansion directly to the White House.

Image by Mason Cummings

Now, President Obama has provided lasting protections to some of the California coast’s most exquisite coastal gems, from the elephant seal rookery and historic lighthouse of Piedras Blancas to the lush redwoods and rolling grasslands of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz, and made more of the monument accessible than ever.

Let’s make sure anti-conservationists don’t gut the Antiquities Act and make it harder to undertake land protection efforts like this in the future.

The existing California Coastal National Monument, by Mason Cummings