The Cambrian

Obama expands coastal monument to include Piedras Blancas

Piedras Blancas Light Station. The Piedras Blancas area has been added to the California Coastal National Monument.
Piedras Blancas Light Station. The Piedras Blancas area has been added to the California Coastal National Monument.

President Barack Obama expanded the territory of the California Coastal National Monument on Thursday, Jan. 12, adding six sites — including Piedras Blancas north of Cambria — and more than 6,000 acres to the monument area that includes islets, reefs and rock outcroppings spanning much of the state’s coastline.

The sites are in Humboldt, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and Orange counties. The national monument stretches the length of the 1,100-mile coastline and includes thousands of rocks, islands and geological formations as well as 1,665 acres of public land in Mendocino County.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson said in an email interview Tuesday, “I really appreciate the hard work that so many local advocates put in to make this designation happen. Their committed teamwork has produced a great result that will benefit our extraordinary shoreline, its historical resources and the local tourism industry.”

The scenic additions to the national monument include important habitat for seabirds, marine mammals, and other plant and animal life, including endangered species. Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area, for example, is an ecologically critical research area and home to marine mammals like the northern elephant seal. These places are now permanently protected and will provide visitors with new ways to experience the breathtaking views in those areas.

But in recent months leading up to the designation, the discussion over the potential monument status brought concern from some people, especially those who live, farm or care about some of the designated areas, including Piedras, Coast Dairies and Lost Coast Headlands. Some said at a meeting in Cambria that they were worried especially about the impacts from increased tourist traffic.

What’s next?

As Ryan Cooper, manager of the Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area, said in an email to supporters after the president’s action, “Initially we will be doing a lot of changing of names on signs and brochures.” Soon, however, the public will be able “to participate in developing a new management plan. This plan will lay out the future of the Piedras Blancas Unit of the California Coastal National Monument … We are excited to see where this will take us.”

Cooper said that, in the meantime, “I look forward to working with all of you to keep this place as special as it always has been.”

The monument

The new sites are: Trinidad Head, Lighthouse Ranch and Lost Coast Headlands in Humboldt County; Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz County; Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County; and many outcroppings and small islands off the Orange County coast.

President Bill Clinton created the national monument in 2000, and Obama expanded it once before, in 2014.

The expansion

“Today’s expansion will protect incredible coastal natural resources, scenic views and areas of cultural and historical significance, including sites that provide insight into the native peoples who first lived along California’s coast and places still important to local tribes today,” the White House said in a statement.

California elected officials and environmental groups were joined by representatives of chambers of commerce and businesses in the coastal communities in cheering the expansion of the National Monument. Business interests say it will boost local economies.

In total, 16 chambers of commerce, 11 tourism boards and hundreds of business owners up and down the coast endorsed the effort. Business leaders point to the 2014 expansion of the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in Mendocino County as an example of the value of this type of designation.

Michael Hanchett, president of the San Simeon Chamber of Commerce, said benefits from the designation of Piedras Blancas and other areas “are not only tangible economic indicators, but they are also those things that harder to measure: community pride, a celebration of our coastal heritage and honoring native tribes.”