President Obama Adds Mendocino Site to California Coastal National Monument

Point Arena, on the Mendocino County coast. (Dan Brekke/KQED)
Point Arena on the Mendocino County coast. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Update, Tuesday 1 p.m.: President Obama made it official today, issuing a proclamation that adds a 1,665-acre parcel at Point Arena to the California Coastal National Monument. The proclamation, which the president signed earlier today at the White House, waxes poetic on the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands that will become part of the monument:

Some of California's most spectacular wildlife make use of this striking landscape and its diverse vegetation communities. The Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands provide important habitat for harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and an occasional elephant seal, which visitors can catch sight of from the vantage of the terrace's western bluffs. The terrace itself supports thriving native bunchgrass prairie and coastal scrub communities. Generally low-lying vegetation is punctuated by a rare bishop pine forest and the southernmost natural example of a shore pine forest.

The bunchgrass prairie is home to the endemic Behren's silverspot butterfly, which is dependent on the presence of the dog violet. The rare and endemic Point Arena mountain beaver makes use of the diverse habitats in these lands. A wide array of rare bird species also uses the area's interconnected habitats, including the black oystercatcher, the little willow flycatcher, the yellow warbler, and the black-crowned night heron. Squadrons of brown pelicans are a frequent sight, gliding low over the powerful waves, while snowy plovers are sometimes seen foraging along the surf line.

Behrens silver-spot butterfly, an endangered species found at the new Point Arena unit of the California Coastal National Monument. (Gordon Pratt via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Behrens silver-spot butterfly, an endangered species found at the new Point Arena unit of the California Coastal National Monument. (Gordon Pratt via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Water plays an essential role in sustaining and connecting plant and animal life in this rugged landscape. At the northern end of these lands, the Garcia River ends its 44-mile journey to the Pacific. The estuary formed by the meeting of these waters provides both a nursery for juvenile fish and a transition zone for a variety of far-roaming salmonids, including central California coast coho salmon, the California coastal Chinook salmon, and northern California steelhead. These anadromous species depend on the Garcia River estuary and its flow through the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to access their upstream spawning habitat. Across the river, powerful winds sculpt an extensive dune system, its shifting sands pocketed with brackish, semi-permanent ponds. Hathaway Creek, which feeds into the Garcia River, also passes through the public lands and provides important riparian habitat. The area's salt marshes, brackish pools, and freshwater springs and seeps support an array of plant and animal species, including Humboldt Bay owl's clover, as well as the rare California red-legged frog.

A clutch of dignitaries and Mendocino officials attended the proclamation signing, including: Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson; Leslie Dahlhoff, former mayor of Point Arena; Scott Schneider, president and CEO of Visit Mendocino County; Eloisa Oropeza, tribal chair of the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians; Larry Stornetta, rancher and former land owner of a portion of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands; and Merita Whatley, manager of the Point Arena Lighthouse and member of Point Arena Merchants Association.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is scheduled to visit Point Arena on Wednesday for a celebration of the proclamation.

Original post: Probably the first question most people have about Point Arena, even we worldly travelers in the Bay Area, is, "Where's that?"

Answer: It's a place — two places, actually, a headland with a beautiful lighthouse and a nearby town — on the Mendocino Coast about 100 miles northwest of San Francisco. It's also about to become the first land-based addition to the California Coastal National Monument, a strip of more than 20,000 offshore islands and rocks stretching from the Mexican border to the Oregon state line.


President Obama is expected to sign an order Tuesday that will add 1,665 acres at Point Arena to the national monument. The property, known as the Stornetta-Point Arena Public Lands, includes coastside meadows and cliffs adjacent to the Point Arena Lighthouse. The property also includes the Garcia River estuary, which provides spawning grounds for coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, all North Bay Democrats, have introduced bills adding the Stornetta lands to the coastal national monument. Huffman's bill made it through the House last year, but the Senate has yet to act on Boxer's proposal.

Huffman, whose 2nd Congressional District includes the entire Northern California coast, said the parcel "is a diverse piece of property even though it's in a pretty small, self-contained area. I can't imagine a more perfect gateway to the coastal national monument."

Point Arena is about halfway between the popular tourist town of Gualala in the south and the heavily visited stretch of shoreline between the Navarro River and Fort Bragg. It's on a pocket of the Mendocino coast that sees relatively few visitors. Huffman says the national monument designation could help change that.

"It's part of the branding that could bring travelers and tourism to the Mendocino coast," he said.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who held a public "listening session" on the national monument proposal in November, is scheduled to visit Point Arena on Wednesday to celebrate the new designation.

Reporting on California land policy, planning and conservation is supported by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.