WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud on Wednesday introduced the Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act of 2011, which designates 13 islands of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The proposed designation would protect and conserve the islands in their natural condition while still allowing public access. The 13 islands and the towns they are near are:

• Outer Heron Island and Outer White Island: Boothbay.

• Little Marshal Island and John’s Island: town of Swan’s Island.

• Bois Bubert Island: Milbridge.

• Inner Sand Island: Addison.

• Halifax Island: Jonesport.

• Cross Island Complex (six islands in a geographic cluster), which include Old Man, Mink, Outer Double Head Shot, Inner Double Head Shot, Scotch and Cross Islands: Cutler.

Congress enacted the Wilderness Act in 1964, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System and gave Congress the authority to designate wilderness areas. There are only two other wilderness designations in Maine. In 1973, two wilderness areas were designated in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. In 1990, the Maine Wilderness Act designated Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness area in the Maine section of the White Mountain National Forest.

Ed Gilman and Bill Perry, staff members in Michaud’s office, explained Wednesday that although the islands now are protected, the new designation would afford a greater level of protection.

“This is pristine habitat,” Perry said. “It will now be protected from development or any other pressures” such as cell phone towers. Gilman explained that the new designation is a protection standard and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would continue to manage the islands.

Perry said two small parcels of privately owned land on Bois Bubert Island are not included in the designation.

“This designation will help to further elevate the profile of these unique coastal islands and boost tourism in Maine,” Michaud said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “In addition, it will benefit the current efforts to restore and preserve this critical wildlife habitat for future generations to enjoy.”

The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge supports an array of biological communities ranging from coastal islands to salt marshes. Its 48 islands and four mainland units provide habitat for many species of migratory seabirds and waterfowl and host a diversity of plants and other wildlife. As a result of the refuge’s comprehensive conservation planning process, which included public comment, the USFW Service recommended that 13 of the refuge’s islands — totaling 3,125 acres — should be designated as national wilderness because of their wild character and ecological features.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who is an original co-sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday, “Wildlife watching and ecotourism bring millions of dollars into Maine’s economy every year. Not only for the guides and boats that bring people to these beautiful places, but for hotels, restaurants, and stores that also serve them. This classification will be an incredible asset to promoting the world-class resources we have here in Maine and building on this sustainable piece of our economy. With a new Seabird Islands Visitors Center in Rockland, it couldn’t come at a better time either.”

Wilderness lands are open to the public for activities such as wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, boating, photography, hunting, fishing, research and nonmotorized recreation. During the refuge planning process, several issues came up including how a wilderness designation would affect public safety, private landowner access and adjacent activities, such as aquaculture and commercial fishing. These issues were dealt with in the refuge’s comprehensive conservation plan and are specifically addressed in the wilderness designation under Michaud’s bill.

“Representatives Michaud and Pingree are showing real leadership with this legislation,” Michael Thompson, a local business owner and chairman of the Friends of Maine Seabird Islands, said. “These islands are gems. There was overwhelming public support for protecting them during comments on the management plan. This legislation ensures that the islands will pass, unspoiled, to future generations of Maine citizens and tourists for walking, wildlife viewing, photography, picnicking, camping and boating.”