Iceberg Point, Past and Future

The San Juan Islands National Monument includes a variety of public lands.  Each have their own value and allure.  There are historic light house locations, where you can view orcas from the porch of light keeper’s quarters.  There are small rocks and islands, some of which disappear completely at high tide.  Others consist of forest, cliffs, and coastal grassland, with amazing views and more amazing plant and lichen communities.  Among these locations, few are more scenic than Iceberg Point on Lopez Island.


Ranunculus californicus at Iceberg Point


Zygadenus venosusus


Eriophyllum lanatum











Iceberg Point is an 88 acre parcel of land on the south west portion of the island.  It’s a mix of forest, small pockets of prairie, and intertidal rocks.  As with other sites in the San Juan Islands, it was tended for hundreds of years by Salish tribes, who would live in the area in the summer seasons.  These areas were burned regularly and probably weeded to an extent to promote the growth of Camas (Camassia leichtinii and quamash) and other food crops.  Though these burns ended almost a century ago, we still see their legacy in the vibrant wildflower community here.  Each spring is an eruption of blue and yellow, purple and pink.  The common flowers include great camas (Camassia leichtinii), meadow death camas (Zygadenus venosusus), taper tip onion (Allium acuminatum), chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), Coastal gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia), western and Californian buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis and californicus), lance leaf sedum (Sedum spathulifolium), early spring violet (Viola adunca), blue eyed grass (Sisirynchium angustifolium), spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum), and prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis).  It also includes three listed imperiled species: California buttercup (Ranunculus californicus), showy Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum), and white topped aster (Sericocarpus rigidus).


Viola adunca


Camassia leichlinii

With its robust plant community the sound, Iceberg Point has long been a favorite spot of botanists and the Lopez Island community.  People nearby think of Iceberg as their backyard, and walking its trails every day is a form of meditation for many residents. However, Iceberg Point faces several challenges.  Since fire and grazing (Iceberg Point was grazed for a short period) have been removed from the landscape, there has been considerable encroachment from shrubs and trees.  In many spots, what used to be dense camas gardens have turned into thickets of rose and snowberry (Rosa nutkana and Symphoricarpos albus).  In other areas, young stands of Doug Fir (Psuedostuga menzezii) and Grand Fir (Abies grandis) have shaded out shrubs as the land slowly returns to its natural state.  Iceberg Point has also seen an increase in use in recent years.  New user- created trails pop up each year, creating a mosaic of footpaths cutting through sensitive lichen heaths and plant communities.  Trails cut through populations of all three listed species on Iceberg Point.  It bums me out.


Delphinium menzesii

Iceberg Point was included in the San Juan Islands National Monument in 2013.  This proclamation has brought more attention and likely more people to visit places like Iceberg Point, a fact that many residents bemoan.   However, Monument status also means permanent protection of some clearly defined natural values.  As people enter into monument planning, deciding what is important to the landscape, I have great hope that they will make it a goal to protect the integrity of Iceberg Point.  I acknowledge (sometimes begrudgingly) that we all have the right to visit these beautiful and historic public lands.  As public land managers and citizens, we also have the responsibility to conserve, protect, and restore those lands for the benefit of both visitors and community, both plant and people.

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