Why We Need Monuments, National and Otherwise


The Value of Unspoiled Nature

It is a fact that daily access to nature makes all of us happier and healthier. In urban Seattle we are lucky to live surrounded by spectacular nature, and perhaps we take it a little for granted. But with population growth and a bad economy, the pressures to exploit nature are almost irresistible, and it’s only going to get worse in the future.

Unless the unspoiled fragments of nature and the landscape are protected, they will eventually get used up—developed for one reason or another that seems to make sense at the time. Just last summer, our cash-strapped Parks Department proposed to install a private, for-profit zip-line into the canopy of one of Seattle’s few remnant mature forests.

The plan was shelved when 250 angry citizens protested, but if this type of thing can be a serious option…what next?

Nature needs an upgrade, a promotion. Maybe something like a Local Natural Monument, a community-level designation that could be proposed for intact areas of more “ordinary” nature. It isn’t just the spectacular that needs protection. Everyday nature is in some ways the most important of all (at least to humans), because it sustains us in our daily lives.


Spectacular and Protected

San Juan Islands National Monument

On Monday, the Pacific Northwest got a new National Monument, one of the most unique, varied and beautiful places on earth.

Thank you Mr. Obama! (It’s about time, though.)

Bureau of Land Management photo of the San Juan Islands.


I remember my Geology professor at the UW many years ago describing the geology of the San Juans as a mystifying and confusing jumble. “Picture a stack of dinner plates,” he said, “each one a different color, style, size, material, and from a different part of the world. Now imagine someone took a hammer, broke them into pieces, mixed them around and then glued them back together.”

(That’s all I remember off the top of my head, but if you want a more scientific description, click here.)

The San Juans are special because they provide many different types of habitat together in one place, surrounded by the protective moat of Puget Sound. Forests, grasslands, wetlands, beaches, and bluffs all work together to sustain an amazing variety of life.


Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet.


The marbled murrelet is officially listed as a threatened species, mostly because of habitat loss. These seabirds need big trees in coastal areas to build their nests. When the old-growth forests were cut, murrelets nearly died out. The new Monument has small areas of old-growth forest, some of which are used by nesting murrelets.

In contrast, last fall the Obama administration proposed to do away with 4 million acres of protected seabird habitat.


Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon raise their young on cliff ledges called eyries. I did this illustration for a signage project for the Mountains to Sound Greenway.


Peregrine falcons were once threatened by agricultural pesticides and were once among the most contaminated of all birds. In the 1970s, the worst chemicals were restricted, and with the help of conservation groups—particularly falconers and raptor experts—the birds rebounded. The cliffs and bluffs of the San Juans support over 20 eyries.



I did this illustration of oystercatchers for one of my projects for the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, on the fabulous Oregon Coast.


Oystercatchers don’t really eat oysters. They eat mainly mussels, chitins and limpets, which they find in abundance in Puget Sound shorelines. A single pair may re-use the same nesting site for many years, usually built on the open sandy or rocky beach. Beach development, unleashed pets, or clueless beachcombers can threaten these birds.


Western Bluebird

Western bluebird, a snippet of a larger illustration I did for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Western bluebirds were recently reintroduced to the San Juans with the help of the San Juan Preservation Trust.

And, since any mention of songbirds brings to mind the devastating effect of free-roaming cats on bird populations, (more than one billion each year) I’ll leave you with this plea:

PLEASE…keep your cats indoors!



What do you think?

Does your community already have something like a Local Natural Monument? Have you been to the San Juans? Do you wish the Obama Administration was greener? Do you think Obama should designate more National Monuments? Would you be willing to keep your cats indoors if it meant having a future with songbirds?  (Cats are just as happy, or happier, indoors)

Go ahead and make my day! Leave a reply, rant, rave, or random thought.