Protest period open on San Juan Islands Nat'l Monument RMP FEIS

alexsidles

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I'm a little late to this news, but the 30-day protest period is now open with regard to the Resource Management Plan (RMP) and associated Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the San Juan Islands National Monument. The decision to adopt the RMP has been made, so no further comment need be submitted. However, anyone opposed to the RMP must submit an administrative protest no later than December 22. Failure to submit a protest will foreclose further appeal of the decision.

Details, including links to the plan itself and a helpful FAQ are available here: https://sanjuanislander.com/news-ar...ment-management-plan-ready-for-public-comment

For those not familiar with the issues, here is some background and my own take:

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has long owned about 1,000 acres in the San Juan Islands. The most notable of these landholdings are Cattle Point on San Juan Island and Iceberg Point and Watmough Bay on Lopez Island. The BLM landholdings also include many small, uninhabited island suitable for day visits or even camping by kayakers, a summary of which I provided in an earlier post here. (The BLM islands are not to be confused with the more numerous National Wildlife Refuge islands, which are closed to visitors.)

Activities on BLM land are supposed to be governed by a RMP specific to each BLM landholding. However, BLM never developed an RMP for its San Juan Islands holdings. I suspect the San Juan Islands holdings were too small, too isolated from any other BLM holdings, and too distant from BLM's regional office in Spokane. For decades, activities in the San Juan Islands BLM lands were regulated not by a site-specific RMP but by the general BLM regulations. Some of the general BLM regulations are friendly to kayakers: for example, no-permit, no-fee, dispersed camping is allowed anywhere on these lands. Others of the general BLM regulations are hostile to kayakers: for example, BLM could have approved livestock, timber, or mining leases on these lands. In addition, BLM had the power to sell off its holdings to private interests, and some such sales were proposed (though not completed) in the 1970s.

There were some exceptions to the general laissez-faire regime. Some of BLM's largest San Juan holdings, including almost all of the ones on Lopez Island, were designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The ACECs were subject to highly protective rules, including no commercial leases and no overnight camping, although day use was allowed. Most of the BLM lands in the San Juans were not ACECs.

Shortly after beginning his second term in office, President Obama exercised his powers under the Antiquities Act to declare all of the BLM holdings in the San Juan Islands a National Monument. This designation prevented the granting of leases or the selling of land. The designation retained no-fee, no-permit dispersed camping. The designation was extremely friendly to kayakers, in that it froze out new development without reducing existing recreational uses, including camping.

The National Monument designation seems to have spurred BLM to finally issue a RMP for its San Juan Islands holdings, which it should have done decades ago. That RMP, and the associated FEIS, is the decision that has now entered its protest period.

In my opinion, the RMP is worse for kayakers than simply leaving the holdings in their current state (that is, National Monument without RMP). The RMP keeps all existing formal campgrounds (which is good), keeps all existing use restrictions in the ACECs while deleting the ACECs themselves (which is fine), and proposes a permitting system for dispersed camping on some, but not all, of the remaining lands (which is bad).

Currently, dispersed camping is allowed on these lands without a permit. The new permit system will, I fear, be bad for kayakers.

First, some islands will be permanently excluded from the permit system and are now closed to camping—or even to day use. The most notable of these closures are Lummi Rocks and McConnell Rocks. (Details available here, in the plan's Appendix R, and summarized at pg. 18 of the RMP/FEIS and pg. 2 of the FAQ). I have camped at Lummi Rocks, and it is a tragedy to lose this site.

Second, prior to the implementation of the permit system, BLM will conduct a survey of remaining dispersed camping lands. If the survey reveals that dispersed camping would impact cultural or ecological resources in a particular site, camping would not be allowed there. Although I support protecting legitimate cultural and ecological resources, I fear the surveying process could lead to large-scale closures. Dispersed camping is not popular among landowners in the San Juans, and I can imagine BLM catering to landowners' interests by closing dispersed camping in the name of culture or ecology.

Finally, once implemented, permits will be limited to one group per night per "recreation management area." Since all of the BLM small island holdings comprise a single RMA, a group of kayakers camping on, say, Freeman Island would preclude any kayakers from camping on, say, Victim Island that same night, even though the two islands are more than 10 miles apart as the kayaker paddles.

Thus, while the RMP is not terrible news for kayakers, and there certainly were worse proposals on the table (including one that would have eliminated all dispersed camping), the net result is yet another loss of island camping in the San Juans.

Alex
 
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mick_allen

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The management plan seems to be a good sized document [https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front...20008616/250010147/Proposed_RMP/Final_EIS.pdf] but I note that although camping and other public use of this land is mentioned everywhere, I see a huge flaw in that the general or paddling public do not seem to have been included as stakeholders or factors in the development or management of this enterprise.
SanJuanIs-BLM.jpg

For example in the Management Direction [p26], I see mention of cultural, historic, vegetative, geophysical and ecological concerns – but a hole exists in the document and possibly even the direction taken without concerns about the usertypes of the resource being a fundamental. Do you know if the Washington Trails group has been involved or notified – and any other recreation groups?



That might be a way to open a corner in the reasoning. For me at first blush, 75 locations is a lot to wrap my head around in a day or so before commenting about specifics - and I wonder if others more intimately involved like those other groups could slow things down for more comprehensive input and maybe a more comprehensive plan.
 

alexsidles

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Seattle WA
Mick,

There was already a lengthy public comment process over the last year, including five community meetings, resulting in over 1,200 comments. So I think they at least gave people a chance to air their ideas. (Whether BLM took those ideas seriously is another matter.)

The current process, which ends December 22, is not intended to give people another chance to air ideas. The decision has been made, so it's too late for new ideas. Instead, the current process gives people a chance to lodge a "protest"—essentially, an administrative appeal alleging that the decision should be amended or revoked because the decision maker failed to follow some established procedure, failed to consider relevant information in making the decision, or made a decision inconsistent with BLM policy, regulation, or statute. In other words, it's too late to argue that the plan is a bad idea. To succeed now, what must be argued is that the plan is in some manner arbitrary and capricious or unlawful.

BLM is in a bit of bind here, as they themselves admit in the RMP/FEIS. Under President Obama's proclamation (and consistent with the Antiquities Act that authorizes such presidential proclamations), the BLM's San Juans holdings have to be maintained for their "scientific and historical" value. However, the current administration has issued a secretarial order directing all BLM offices to increase "recreational" use on all BLM landholdings. This secretarial directive is consistent with BLM's general land management statute (FLPMA), which requires BLM to manage for "multiple uses." So, in the San Juans, BLM is trying to juggle the multiple uses of "scientific and historical" and "recreational."

In general, I think "scientific and historical" is likely to win this fight. FLPMA itself says (at 43 U.S.C. § 1732(a)) that the multiple-use rule does not apply if a landholding is designated for some other specific purpose—here, the "scientific and historical" purpose of the presidential proclamation and Antiquities Act. A mere secretarial order (directing increased recreation as a multiple use) cannot overcome the statutory command of FLPMA to give deference to the Antiquities Act-based proclamation (directing scientific and historical use). I suspect the strongest protests will be those that aim at BLM's well-intentioned but clumsy attempt to juggle multiple uses in a manner that fails to preserve scientific and historical values.

Of course, I don't want to lodge such a protest myself, because I want more recreation! I was happy with the pre-plan National Monument, which let me camp wherever I wanted for free! So it doesn't do me much good to argue that BLM failed to hew to the presidential proclamation, because that argument, if it prevails, would only lead BLM to close more camping. I've lodged a protest arguing that the plan doesn't provide enough recreation, but now I'm in the same boat as BLM—how do I square increased recreation with scientific and historical preservation?

The environmental, tribal, and neighbor groups are lodging protests with anti-camping, anti-kayaking arguments, which I fear will be rather persuasive. Each of these constituencies has its own reasons for wanting to kick campers (and even day-users) off the BLM landholdings in the San Juans, and the law may be on their side.

At Mick's advice, I've pinged WWTA to see if they or any of their members might be lodging protests. They were all over the Shaw Island campground closure (which is still a live issue, by the way), but I think this BLM stuff might have slipped under their radar. Most visitors to the San Juans—including, I suspect, most WWTA members and staff—are unaware that they have had the right, for decades now, to camp anywhere they want on BLM land. Also, the BLM sites, unlike Shaw Island, are not part of the Cascadia Marine Trail, so WWTA may not watch them as closely.

Alex
 

jmden

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I talked to the manager of the San Juan Islands National Monument today. She said the best way to make a difference at this point is to contact Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s office and register your comments with him as there is approximately 30 days left in which his office is reviewing the RMP. A number of us local to the Bellingham area just found out about this at all 2 days ago and and very upset specifically at the closure of Lummi Rocks. My family has sea kayaked to and spent many a night there over the years and it’s a common rest stop during a day circumnavigation of Lummi Island.

Please lodge your concern with Governor Inslee at: https://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/contact/send-gov-inslee-e-message

You can also call the Governor’s office at 360 902 4111.

Additionally, she said contacting Washington State’s US Senators and Congressmen could be helpful as well as Washington State legislators. I live in the Washington State 42nd District and Lummi Rocks is within this legislative district, so I would also recommend folks contact Senator Doug Ericksen at
doug@senatorericksen.com, Representative Van Werven at
luanne.vanwerven@leg.wa.gov

It’s aggravating to me to be a taxpayer/public land owner and have my access to these public lands continually be under attack and more lands being put off limits that haven’t been at all in the past. I also do a fair amount of hunting and fishing and tribal interests locally have already denied my family federal areas that we used to hunt and fish in in the last 3-5 years...and now local kayaking destinations like Lummi Rocks, albeit in combination with environmental groups.
 

alexsidles

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Pursuant to 43 CFR § 1610.3-2, the federal regulation allowing state review of BLM resource management plans (RMP), Washington State Governor Inslee submitted a letter last month to BLM in which the governor argued that the proposed RMP for the San Juan Islands National Monument is inconsistent with state and local natural resource protection plans.

The governor largely adopted the objections of the influential citizens' group Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument, who have spent twenty years fighting (very successfully so far) for increased protections on BLM lands in the San Juans. In summary, the governor recommends:
  • No dispersed camping anywhere in the monument
  • No public access on the smallest islands ("Category A and B rocks")
  • No drones
  • No target shooting
  • Site-specific cultural resource inventories for all recreation areas
BLM's state director may grant or reject the governor's recommendations. If the state director rejects the governor's recommendations, the governor may file an administrative appeal to BLM (similar to the administrative "protests" many of the public commenters have already lodged). Ultimately, the BLM administrative decision is appealable to federal court.

As an environmentalist, I support all the governor's recommendations. As a kayaker, however, I do not support the elimination of dispersed camping. So much of the shoreline in Washington is privatized, we need as much camping access as we can get. (I do, however, support the closure to all access of the Category A and B rocks, which are too small even for kayak camping.) Environmental protection is important, but I resent that environmental protection comes at the expense of kayakers instead of other land-using constituencies whose impacts are far more adverse than kayakers'. Perhaps, for example, the monument could be expanded through the use of eminent domain to acquire private properties along the shoreline? Bulldoze a few hundred houses, tear up a few hundred miles of roads, remove a few hundred private boat docks, and then, if there still isn't enough habitat, let's take another look at those pesky dispersed campers.

I am also suspicious, as I mentioned in my Dec. 17 post above, of the site-specific cultural resource inventory process (which, though the governor's letter does not mention it, will also include an ecological resource inventory). I worry that even those sites where dispersed camping is currently preserved, such as Freeman Island, for example, where I recently camped, the resource inventory process will result in additional closures. Here, for example, is a December 9 interview with the monument's manager, who all but promises that Indian Island will ultimately be closed to camping, even though the RMP lists Indian Island as a dispersed camping site. ("My expectations are that it is unlikely that it will become available for that once it’s gone through the NEPA review.")

At this point, under the RMP planning schedule, we are waiting for BLM to respond to the protests and governor's recommendation and publish the final RMP, which may incorporate changes in response to the protests and governor's recommendation. Publication is scheduled for winter 2020. Parties who have submitted protests may then appeal the adoption to federal court.

I've tried to attach a PDF of Governor Inslee's letter, which I have not been able to find elsewhere online.

Alex
 

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mick_allen

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It sure doesn't help if the governor himself is on side with reduction of recreational options.

Up here we also are victim to the mentality that 'paving' more of the existing high use parking and camping areas and puttting barricades [real or legal] around anything not easy to manage by a truck is an effective way to satisfy increasing demand.

The simplistic economic argument is hard to counter . . . except by demonstrating [by yours and other stories and photos] that there is a whole host of unimagined beauty and tranquility just beyond one's fingertips - that is actually worth much more by economic and many more metrics to all local and wider users.
 

alexsidles

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It’s been almost a year, and no final decision from BLM regarding the Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the San Juan Islands National Monument. The original schedule was to have the RMP done by winter 2020, so I called the local BLM staffer for an update.

Recall from the thread above, the range of possible outcomes relevant to kayakers are: camping allowed everywhere on the BLM islands (the status quo these many decades without an RMP); camping allowed on some islands but not others (BLM staff’s recommendation); or no dispersed camping at all on the BLM islands, and some islands closed even to day use (the state governor’s preference and that of the local government).

The legal issue is that the Antiquities Act requires conservation, which would tend to preclude camping, while FLPMA, the general BLM management statute, generally requires multiple-use, which would tend to allow camping.

The local BLM staffer tells me the proposed RMP went up to Washington, DC for approval in November or December, the waning months of President Trump’s administration. However, Trump’s appointees at BLM did not act on the proposal before leaving office, so now the decision will rest in the hands of President Biden’s new appointees at BLM.

The new bosses at BLM can adopt the RMP as proposed (allowing some camping but not as much as we have now without an RMP), or they could select one of the other alternatives (camping everywhere; or camping nowhere). Or they could come up with some new plan no one has yet thought of, although this latter scenario would throw the RMP back into a years-long planning process.

The local BLM staffer could not speculate how long it might take for the national office to make its decision. One suspects the San Juan Islands RMP is not a very high priority - if it were, Trump’s people could have approved the plan while they were still in office. If it’s true the RMP is not attracting much attention in DC, then hopefully the national office will simply approve the RMP’s proposed option (some camping, though not as much pre-RMP), rather than take the time to familiarize themselves sufficiently with the issues to endorse a no-camping alternative.

Unfortunately, I suspect the new administration will be hostile to camping. Governor Inslee and the San Juan County Council members are all Democrats, same as President Biden, so the local and state objections to dispersed camping will now reach a sympathetic ear in Washington DC, which was not the case under the previous administration. In addition, the San Juan Islands National Monument was designated under the Antiquities Act by President Obama, another Democrat, so to the extent there is a conflict between the purposes of the Antiqities Act and FLPMA, President Biden’s BLM might tend to resolve the conflict in favor of the Antiquities Act. Plus, there is the ideological predisposition of Democrats to be more protective of the environment than Republicans, even perhaps at the expense of recreation.

All in all, I am not optimistic about kayak-campers’ chances. Approval of the proposed RMP, mediocre as it is for kayakers, would have been one of the handful of actions by the Trump administration I would have supported, because I fear the Biden RMP will ultimately prove even worse. However, in clasic Trump fashion, they couldn’t even get that right.

Alex
 
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