Three months after the final two appointments were made to fill all 12 seats on the San Juan Islands National Monument Advisory Committee (MAC), a surprising decision came down from federal bureaucracy.
Department of Interior attorneys determined that, since the MAC was created to guide the development of the Resource Management Plan (RMP), which was now completed, the MAC would be terminated immediately following its scheduled Zoom meeting on Dec. 7.
MAC chair Jamie Stephens said he received the announcement just the previous week and referred to it as “stunning news.” He began the Dec. 7 meeting saying he wanted to pursue the question of continuing the existing MAC until a new one could be seated.
The decision came as a surprise even to local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managers.
Steve Small, the new BLM Spokane District Manager, who has worked for the BLM over 23 years but has been district manager for only seven weeks, assured the MAC that a new committee would be created as soon as possible, and that a draft charter to create it is being reviewed by the BLM.
The new MAC will be under BLM authority instead of the Department of Interior, and its focus will be on implementing the management plan.
BLM’s National Advisory Committee Coordinator Carrie Richardson, who manages advisory committees nationally, said that, “When a charter expires, personally, it gives me heartburn.”
“Getting this committee stood back up is one of my top priorities,” she said, “I promise.”
Some residents worked for years to establish the monument, and some members of the MAC have been working for over 10 years to guide completion of the management plan. Of great concern to all the members was wanting continuity and avoiding another long gap in the process such as the one that occurred during the Trump administration when many staff positions at BLM remained vacant.
BLM’s Small said that the agency has reduced the vacancy rate within the agency from 40% to 20%.
Tom Reeve, one of the first MAC members, came to the meeting prepared with resolutions that the committee could pass before it expired. After Small said that a draft charter for a new MAC was already being reviewed by BLM management, Reeve asked, “Are you interested in our opinions … how open are you to our comments?”
The draft charter was shown on the Zoom screen, but MAC members had not received copies. The new charter has several changes to the composition of the members that represent different stakeholder groups.
While still having 12 members, a second tribal representative will be added, and the position representing interpretation and education will be eliminated. Erin Corra, who has been the representative in that position, expressed disappointment. She said she’d been waiting all this time for the implementation to begin, and now will not have a role. Monument manager Brie Chartier said Corra would qualify to apply as a representative of a nonprofit organization and encouraged her to do so when the nomination period opens.
Reeve suggested eliminating the requirement that representative stakeholders be employed by a nonprofit organization or in academia, to bring expertise to the group. Academic emeriti or nonprofit board members would also bring expertise, Reeve said, without being employed. His suggestion was met favorably by BLM representatives, who said they could still provide input to the process.
Filling the void
Current members of the MAC will have to submit new applications to be considered for positions on the new committee, after the process is advertised in the Federal Register. A recent application period for open positions on the old MAC was closed, and Richardson said that applications received during that time will be considered for the new MAC. One of these applications was from Lopez county council member Jane Fuller.
Although BLM said that nothing could be done to keep the current MAC from expiring, Stephens said he wanted to go on record with a vote asking the Department of Interior to continue of the current MAC until a new MAC is seated. The resolution also asked for public meetings to report on issues related to RMP and status of the Monument during any hiatus without a MAC.
The MAC passed the resolution unanimously. It included a request to send the resolution to the Secretary of the Interior. Stephens said he also contacted Gov. Jay Inslee’s office about this setback.
“Some people feel (the MAC is) dissolved, but I look at as moving on to the next step,” said MAC tribal representative Sam Barr.
Regarding how long it will take to create a new MAC, Richardson explained that “as soon as the charter is signed, there will be a notice published in the Federal Register calling for nominations to the MAC.” The appointment process is likely to take at least several months.
Chartier encouraged the MAC members to continue to stay involved in other ways during the interim, saying there are many volunteer opportunities.
Hunting fatality on Monument land
The final topic for the MAC was a Nov. 18 hunting accident on Chadwick Hill, part of the Monument lands. Chartier reported that, during legal hunting season, there was a 911 call regarding shots fired. A San Juan County sheriff’s deputy and other hunters in the area found the victim but were unable to save him, and he died.
Unofficial reports have said there were many hunters (25–30) in the area that day. An investigation is still underway, and no official report has been issued. Fuller said she is advocating for and plans to participate in a multi-agency meeting, when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) completes its investigation.
Hunting is allowed in some parts of the Monument, entirely managed by the WDFW. BLM does have the ability to add regulations or close areas to hunting, but hunting is a traditional use on this parcel of land. Most BLM lands are governed by a multi-use philosophy of management, and hunting is usually a permitted use. Hunting was a controversial subject during the public comment phase of developing the RMP, but hunting managed by WDFW is still allowed.
The San Juan County Land Bank also allows hunting on some of its parcels on San Juan and Lopez islands, with additional restrictions. Written permission must be obtained from the Land Bank; and on Sugarloaf Preserve on San Juan Island, owned by the San Juan Preservation Trust, a reservation can be made for just one hunting party per day.
The mix of hunting in the Monument with a growing population, increased tourism and other recreational uses was controversial in the development of the management plan. A hunting accident fatality comes at a time when the community has no input via a Monument Advisory Committee.
— Reported by Nancy DeVaux