In 2006, then-president George W. Bush signed an executive order that created the largest federal marine sanctuary in history, a thousand-mile stretch of Pacific Ocean and uninhabited islands between Hawaii and Midway. Perhaps he wanted to trump the legacy of his father, who as president 14 years earlier signed into law the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It protects 276 miles of California coast between Hearst Castle and the Marin Headlands from oil drilling and other disruptions to the ecosystem.
Now it's President Barack Obama's turn. He should issue an executive order to protect a 50-mile stretch of coast from Bodega Bay north to Point Arena in Mendocino County, one of the most beautiful rugged coastlines in the world. The area would expand on the Gulf of the Farallones and the Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries to preserve 4,500 square miles of ocean.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-San Rafael, has tried to get this done through legislation, but the oil and natural gas industries have fought any further limits on offshore drilling. Although that opposition seems to have ebbed -- the area apparently isn't considered to be of great energy potential -- there's no way the GOP-controlled House will expand environmental protection. And Woolsey leaves office at the end of the year.
So she and Sen. Barbara Boxer are leading an all-out campaign to get this done by then. They're urging the president to use the same type of executive order Bush signed for the South Pacific preserve.
While the drilling industries oppose sanctuaries in principle, the major fishing and tourist industry groups strongly support them.
Most professional fishermen know the importance of protecting the ecosystem to sustain their business over time. And domestic and international travelers spent $102 billion in picturesque California in 2011, supporting 893,000 jobs with combined earnings of $30.4 billion, according to travel industry reports.
Tourist spending is estimated to have generated $2.3 billion in local taxes and $4 billion in state taxes that year. It's not quite the tech industry -- but it also doesn't require a lot of R&D spending to keep it going.
Woolsey and Boxer are joined by a dozen California House members including Zoe Lofgren, Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo and Sam Farr. But the more voices, the better. Contact your own representative or, better still, Woolsey (woolsey.house.gov) to add yours. It's her crusade.
We also suggest that you send this to your friends across the country who come visit you on their California vacations. Anybody who has driven even a small stretch of that rugged Sonoma-Mendocino coast will want the view and the creatures that thrive there preserved forever.
Both Presidents Bush showed that intelligent environmental protection really isn't that difficult to accomplish, even in Washington.
A visionary president would leap at this opportunity to shore up his environmental legacy. We urge President Obama to do so.