Obama Elevates Bird Rock’s Status

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Ed Almanza, a board member of the Laguna Ocean Foundation, received a call from the White House last week, informing him of a pending announcement that he and others in the organization had long been lobbying for.

The outcropping known as Bird Rock, visible from Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach, last week received a new designation as a national monument. Photo by Mitch Ridder.
The outcropping known as Bird Rock, visible offshore Laguna Beach, last week received a new designation as a national monument. Photo by Mitch Ridder.

President Obama added six sites totaling roughly 6,000 acres to the California Coastal National Monument on Thursday, Jan. 12. The additions to the monument, one of Obama’s last executive orders, included the Orange County Rocks, the white-capped outcroppings visible from Crescent Bay known as Bird Rock.

For Almanza the announcement summoned “a sense of common cause with all those who have labored for this, which in our historical moment seems a rare and highly valuable thing.”

In a KPCC radio interview, Almanza said, “We were hoping the president would take this action,” adding “we’ve been working on getting our rocks into the monument for a long time.”

Adding the Orange County Rocks to the California Coast National Monument formally includes them in a much larger ecosystem that extends along the entire California coast and beyond, says a foundation statement. They are an important feeding, breeding and resting ground for birds and also provide habitat for sea lions and invertebrates. Monument status will allow scientists to work with local conservationists, the Bureau of Land Management and non-government agencies as well. “Resources along Orange County’s coast will be the beneficiaries,” the LOF statement says.

Most of Laguna Beach’s coastline already lies within a marine protected zone, protections that prohibit fishing under a state statute enacted in 1999. The consequence of Bird Rock’s new status wasn’t immediately clear. Laguna’s Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow could not be reached for comment.

President Clinton established the monument in 2000 to protect thousands of rocks, islands and geological formations off the California coastline. The OC Rocks were not included because they had once been reserved for possible lighthouse locations for use by the Coast Guard in an act of Congress. In 2014 President Obama added 1,665 acres known as Stornetta-Point Arena in Mendocino County to the monument as its first land-based unit, using as Clinton had, the American Antiquities Act of 1906.

The Antiquities Act resulted from concerns about protecting mostly prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts. The law gives the president the authority by proclamation to create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. The act has been used over 100 times since its passage.

Although the notion of putting a lighthouse on the OC Rocks had long passed, another act of Congress was needed to undo the first act reserving them for lighthouses.

Efforts to pass such legislation in the House and the Senate date back to 2011 when Rep. John Campbell of Irvine introduced H.R.944 to “eliminate an unused lighthouse reservation” and fold the rocks and small islands along the coast of Orange County into the California Coastal National Monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It was passed in the House, but not approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced the more sweeping, California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act (S. 1971) in August 2015. It proposed to “permanently protect the ecological, cultural and scenic resources at six different sites totaling 6,200 acres throughout the state.” The six properties proposed for inclusion in the California Coastal National Monument were located in Humboldt, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and the Orange County Rocks. The bill provided for repealing the lighthouse reservation for the San Juan and San Mateo rocks as well as the formations off   Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach. The Open Space Trust circulated an on-line petition to support the passage of the legislation, but the bill failed.

A similar fate met a bill by Rep. Lois Capps, who represented Santa Barbara and San Luis Opisbo counties, (HR 3565.) in September 2015

With her term set to expire at the end of 2016, Senator Boxer along with Democratic representatives from Santa Barbara, San Rafael and Menlo Park asked President Obama to make the expansion using his authority under the Antiquities Act.

Also having rooted for monument status for the OC Rocks over many years, the Conservation Lands Foundation celebrated the expansion of the California Coastal National Monument and four other monument designations made the same day. They include three Southern civil rights sites and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southwestern Oregon.

Clarification:

In a story about the proclamation of the Orange County Rocks receiving monument status, a photo shows Bird Rock and mentions Seal Rock. To clarify, all the rocks along the Orange County coast are now included in the California Coastal National Monument.

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