Obama's Speech Energizes North Coast Communities

Wild Iris in bloom at Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in May 2013. | Photo: Courtesy Bureau of Land Management

President Barack Obama is indicating he's willing to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect more federal lands.

His statement in the State of the Union address is energizing groups along the Mendocino coastline in Northern California.

Supporters of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands want to see the 1,600 acres made part of the California Coastal National Monument.

"It would be the very first time a chunk of land onshore has been protected," says Robert Pinoli, general manager of the historic Skunk Train that takes visitors through the Redwoods.

"And, the amount of tourism we would be able to see from this would be extremely beneficial to our area."

Pinoli maintains the designation would bring international attention to the area that already supports 5,000 travel and tourism jobs and generates more than $20 million annually in state and local taxes.

Last November, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the region.

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She spoke at a public hearing that attracted more than 300 Mendocino County residents, elected officials and business leaders such as Pinoli, who pushed for the designation.

"After so many years of working on protecting these lands, finally the message is being heard," he says. "So, I'm very optimistic that the president will follow through with this."

Debra DeGraw, CEO of the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce, says the president's statement was the first time he had directly referenced land conservation in a State of the Union address.

"I applaud President Obama's commitment to preserving our public lands for future generations -- and creating jobs today," she says.

The lands include more than two miles of coastline and the estuary of the Garcia River, which is prime Coho and Chinook salmon habitat.

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