The historic 20-acre Piedras Blancas Light Station, built in 1875 to guide mariners and help them avoid large pinnacles in the sea, could become part of the 1,100-mile California Coastal National Monument.
The light station already is designated as Bureau of Land Management Outstanding Natural Area.
So, what’s the difference?
According to information from the offices of U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats from California, the new designations would give the areas added protections from development, ensure stronger protections for a diverse array of wildlife, help restore habitats and protect water quality and make them eligible for land and water conservation resources, the senators said in a joint news release.
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The two senators introduced legislation Aug. 5 that would expand the California Coastal National Monument — a protected stretch running offshore along the state’s rugged coast — to include 6,200 acres of federally owned lands in San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Humboldt counties. Those additions in six locations include the Piedras light station.
Boxer and Feinstein say their proposed California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act would provide visitors with greater access to the coast, improve management of these areas, and highlight the historic, cultural, scientific and ecological significance of each of these public lands.
Also, as Donovan Marley, coordinator of the Piedras Blancas Monument Initiative group, said in October that people planning to visit the area “know what a national or state monument means. How many of them know what an outstanding natural area is?”
Adding these lands to the existing monument would make them part of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) National Conservation Lands program, making them eligible for Land and Water Conservation resources.
Local reaction has been enthusiastic.
“I am pleased,” said Mike Hanchett Sr., president of the San Simeon Chamber of Commerce. “The highest possible level of protection for these treasures is vital to the ecological, scientific, historical and economic interests of the entire central coast of California.”
Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said she’s “particularly pleased that Senator Boxer's legislation would redesignate Piedras Blancas Light Station as a National Monument, an honor befitting this outstanding landmark, which is teeming with historic importance and natural beauty."
Marley said Capps “intends to introduce parallel legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
“While we are grateful that Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein and Congresswoman Capps are supporting our goals, the heavy lifting lies ahead,” he said. “The coordinating committee will continue to work for passage of the legislation."
Marley also said the remaining 456 acres of the Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area are to be added to the Coastal monument after a cooperative management agreement with State Parks is finalized. The site is noted for its 380-degree scenic views and a large, roadside colony of elephant seals.
California owns that land, and national monuments can only include federal properties. However, adjacent land covered by a proper contract can be included, he said. Such a pact would be similar to the current contract that allows shared BLM/State Parks responsibility for the acreage.
David Cooper of Friends of the Elephant Seal said, “The Feinstein-Boxer bill respects and preserves existing agreements between BLM-controlled properties and adjacent landholders — in our case, the 456 acres held by CA State Parks constituting the balance of the Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area.”
He explained that “BLM and State Parks can agree to extend the existing cooperative management agreement (negotiated and signed in 2012) to the new California Coastal National Monument, thereby bringing national monument designation, status and protection to the entire 476 acres of the existing Outstanding Natural Area. This does not involve title transfer of any land.”
Cooper said the effect of the legislation notches up the status of the current Outstanding Natural Area “to a new stand-alone unit, the Piedras Blancas California Coastal National Monument, jointly managed by BLM and State Parks.”
The delay in completing the state-BLM contract is because 32 acres currently owned by the neighboring Hearst Corp. is to be added to the Outstanding Natural Area after Caltrans completes a realignment of Highway 1 in that area.
The coastal monument
The California Coastal National Monument, designated by President Clinton in 2000, stretches the entire 1,100 miles of California's coastline and protects more than 20,000 small islands, rocks and exposed reefs between Mexico and Oregon. It also protects the habitat for a variety of wildlife including seabirds, California sea lions and southern sea otters.
The monument was expanded in 2014 to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in Mendocino County.
Besides the Piedras Blancas Light Station, here are the other sites proposed to be added to the national monument:
• Santa Cruz County: the Cotoni-Coast Dairies, 5,780 acres.
• Humboldt County: the Lost Coast Headlands, 440 acres; Trinidad Head, 13 acres; and the Lighthouse Ranch, 8 acres.
• Orange County: small group of rocks and islands offshore. The Coast Guard once considered these properties for lighthouses, but now agrees they should be permanently protected.