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H.R. 944 - Parks, Forest and Public Lands




Statement for the Record

Department of the Interior

House Natural Resources Committee

Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands

H.R. 944, Orange County, California Rocks and Small Islands

May 4, 2011

Thank you for inviting the Department of the Interior to testify on H.R. 944, which would add certain rocks and small islands along the coast of Orange County, California, to the California Coastal National Monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).The BLM supports H.R. 944.

Background

The California Coastal National Monument, part of the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System, was established by a Presidential Proclamation by President Clinton on January 11, 2000, to protect:

"all unappropriated or unreserved lands and interest in lands owned or controlled by the United States in the form of islands, rocks, exposed reefs, and pinnacles . . . within 12 nautical miles of the shoreline of the State of California."

Covering more than 20,000 rocks and small islands spread along 1,100 miles of the California coastline, the Presidential Proclamation protects the Monument's overwhelming scenic quality and natural beauty.The Proclamation specifically calls for the protection of the geologic formations and the habitat that these rocks and small islands provide for seabirds, marine mammals, and other plant and animal life, both terrestrial and marine.

Some particularly significant public rocks and islands off the coast of Orange County in the Laguna Beach area provide important habitat for a wide variety of upper rocky intertidal species, as well as various shorebird species.Additionally, four rock locations – Bird Rock and Two Rocks off the City of Laguna Beach, San Juan Rocks off the City of Dana Point, and San Marcos Rocks off the southern portion of the City of San Clemente – provide important roosting habitat for seabirds (including cormorants and the Federally-listed brown pelican) and haul-out areas for seals and sea lions.

In the process of working with local communities on planning for the California Coastal National Monument, the BLM discovered that the rock features off the coastline of Orange County were under Congressional withdrawals dating from the 1930s and, therefore, were not included within the Monument.These withdrawals include more than 40 offshore rocks, small islands, exposed reefs, and pinnacles located within one mile of the coast of Orange County, California, totaling approximately two acres above mean high tide. More than 70 years old, the withdrawals were originally intended to temporarily reserve the Orange County offshore rocks and small islands for "park, scenic, or other public purposes" (1931 Act), and reserve three specific offshore rock clusters for the possibility of future lighthouses (1935 Act), which were never built.These withdrawals were ultimately never utilized and are no longer needed.

The Laguna Ocean Foundation has led a community-wide effort to include these significant areas within the California Coastal National Monument.The Foundation has worked with the City of Laguna Beach and other local groups, including the Audubon Society and the Surfrider Foundation, on a variety of city and area-wide coastal protection and monitoring projects, which resulted in H.R. 944.

H.R. 944

H.R. 944 would eliminate the existing withdrawals on these public lands off the coast of Orange County and place these features within the existing California Coastal National Monument.The BLM supports the revocation of the old withdrawals and the inclusion of these rocks, islands, and exposed reefs within the Monument.

The BLM has been working with partners along the 1,100 mile California coast to create a series of California Coastal National Monument Gateway community initiatives.These Gateway initiatives are a means to support organized local stewardship of various California coastal areas through the development of a consortium of the area's resource managers and advocates.The Laguna Beach community has expressed strong interest in developing a California Coastal National Monument Gateway initiative for the Orange County coastal area.Inclusion of these rocks and islands within the Monument will allow the BLM to work with the community to provide responsible, long-term stewardship of these valuable areas.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 944.We look forward to passage of this legislation which would place these significant features off the coast of Orange County within the California Coastal National Monument, thus ensuring their long-term protection and preservation, and paving the way for an important local community stewardship initiative.