San Juan Islands celebrate national monument designation

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. -- It's official -- nearly 1,000 acres of the San Juans Islands are now permanently protected as a national monument.

"Well, anyone who knows the San Juans knows that they are breathtaking," said Sen. Maria Cantwell. "And we're taking the most breathtaking parts and preserving them permanently."

And that's what makes this national monument designation quite different -- it's not one contiguous chunk of land. It's dozens of parcels, some quite small - even large rocks.

Vistas, lighthouses, even rocky points surrounded by the Salish Sea, existing protections are now enhanced.

"Because a monument designation under The Antiquities Act now makes sure that conservation and preservation will be the highest use," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The honor was years in the making. Cantwell even once joked she'd get a tattoo if it meant helping this grassroots campaign.

"So it may have started in a living room on Lopez Island. But it traveled all the way to the Oval Office," Cantwell said. "And, yes, there were a lot of twists and turns along the way. And I actually thought I was going to have to get a tattoo. But we got it done."

Washington's own Congressman Doc Hastings, the House Natural Resources Committee chair, supported mining and other resource extraction here. The national monument designation meant the president didn't need Congressional approval.

"I would just like to thank everybody who encouraged President Obama," said Reyna Ellis. "You know, I feel so privileged that I get to live on this - on these beautiful islands, and that this land will be saved and preserved for my children."