(Washington D.C.) - Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) introduced companion legislation in the House and Senate today to create the first new Wilderness area in Washington state in over twenty years. After more than five years of preparation, Murray and Larsen are hopeful that their Wild Sky legislation will become law in 2007.
"We have a great tradition of preserving the places that make Washington unique, and the Wild Sky Wilderness bill continues that tradition," Murray said. "I'm thrilled that we will finally have a real opportunity to protect this remarkable area. It's the right thing to do for our environment, our economy, and future generations."
"Senator Murray and I are introducing this bill to protect some of the most pristine forests and streams in Washington state." said Larsen. "Years of community input have helped us carefully craft this legislation to protect Wild Sky. Washington families and businesses will benefit from this accessible wilderness for generations to come."
Larsen and Murray originally introduced legislation to make Wild Sky a National Wilderness Area on May 29, 2002. In the 107th, the 108th and the 109th Congress, the bill passed the Senate and enjoyed broad bi-partisan support but failed to make it through the House.
The Wild Sky Wilderness Act of 2007 will designate 106,577 acres of national forest in east Snohomish County as wilderness. In the past, wilderness has consisted solely of old growth forest at higher elevations. Wild Sky protects thousands of acres of low-elevation old growth and 25 miles of salmon streams to make the land accessible for recreational use.
The area is located within 90 minutes of 2.5 million people.
"It's long past time we added this magnificent natural treasure to our nation's wilderness system, and this year we intend to get the job done," said Senator Maria Cantwell. "Preserving Wild Sky will boost tourism at gateway communities all along Highway 2, safeguard accessible recreation opportunities, and protect an irreplaceable piece of Washington's natural heritage."
"Having looked down from the summit of Mount Baring, I can tell you this truly is wild country worth protecting," said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who serves on the House panel with jurisdiction over wilderness bills. "It's amazing we have such pristine forest so close to downtown Seattle. I look forward to helping the efforts of Senator Murray and Congressman Larsen by shepherding the bill through the Natural Resources Committee."
The carefully crafted bill was designed after consulting with constituents and a number of interested parties. Public meetings were held in both Index and Monroe. Since 2001, staff from Murray and Larsen's office have been in constant communication with Snohomish County and the local Forest Service. They have also worked with the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association, local tribes, Washington Snowmobilers Association, Snohomish County Emergency Responders, backcountry horsemen and Washington Coalition of Citizens with disAbilities. Murray and Larsen continued to communicate with local stakeholders following the Fall of 2006 floods.
Senator Murray's full statement follows:
Mr. President, I rise today to reintroduce the Wild Sky Wilderness Act, a bill to protect some of Washington's most unique and remarkable public lands for families today and for future generations.
For more than six years, citizens, community leaders, groups and organizations have worked together with Representative Rick Larsen and me to make this proposal a reality. I am proud to offer our bill here in the Senate on their behalf. This is the fourth time I've introduced this bill, and I'm really excited about finally moving this bill across the finish line this year.
The Wild Sky Wilderness Act reflects the best values of my home state of Washington - environmental protection, stewardship of our land, and community partnership. It also respects the economic and recreational interests of the people of Snohomish County. Our bill will protect an important area while keeping it accessible for recreation and enjoyment today and for generations to come.
For many years, I've been concerned by the rapid growth taking place in Western Washington. It's no surprise that more people want to live and work in the region, but we need to make sure that development does not destroy the natural beauty that is such an important part of our state's identity and our quality of life. We also need to ensure that growth and development do not destroy native species of plants and animals that have flourished here for centuries.
So several years ago, I began to consider new wilderness legislation. I learned that we haven't added any new wilderness areas in Washington state since 1984. I knew that if we were going to protect public land, I wanted to do it in an inclusive way by seeking input from local communities and stakeholders and working with them to develop a sound proposal. I am proud to say that the fruits of our labor are now before the United States Senate. My partner in the House of Representatives, Congressman Larsen, and I worked alongside all of the local stakeholders every step of the way to select these particular areas in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest.
The Wild Sky Wilderness will protect wildlife and promote clean water by preserving the landscapes that host many native plants and animals. We can still find many of the species that have historically called this area home, but their populations are much smaller today. If these animals are going to be here centuries from now, we must protect their habitats. This wilderness designation is especially critical for threatened species of salmon, steelhead and trout, and it will protect the upper reaches of water to ensure prime habitat and clean water.
In addition, our bill ensures that the public will have access to these remarkable, protected places. It's estimated that 2.4 million people live nearby in King, Snohomish and Skagit counties. Our bill will ensure they have new recreational opportunities in the Wild Sky Wilderness. In this hectic, fast-paced time, more and more people and their families are turning to outdoor recreation on our public lands. This bill will provide new opportunities for the public to use this land by directing the U.S. Forest Service to develop a series of hiking and equestrian trails.
In addition to the environmental protections and recreational opportunities, the Wild Sky Wilderness Area will be good for the local economy. Every climber, hiker, hunter and angler setting out for the Wild Sky Wilderness will be stopping at hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and stores in the gateway communities of Index, Skykomish, Monroe, Miller River, Startup, Grotto, Baring, Sultan, and Gold Bar.
Over the years, so many people have worked hard to make this bill possible. I can't name all of them, but I do want to recognize one great leader who is not with us to see the progress she helped make possible, Karen Fant. Anyone involved in wilderness protection knows the legacy that Karen has left us through her years of advocacy for our state's natural places. Early on, Karen recognized the need to bring together and involve local people in efforts to protect wilderness. She co-founded and directed the Washington Wilderness Coalition, and she was instrumental in forming a statewide community of wilderness advocates.
To those who knew her - and especially those lucky enough to sample her famous cookies -- Karen provided never-ending inspiration and enthusiasm to continue working to protect wilderness and wild lands in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
I cannot summarize Karen's amazing four decades of service, but I think some of her many friends said it best when they wrote:
"There are thousands of miles of trails and millions of acres of wilderness that are protected due to her work and the work of others she organized to make a difference. As we walk these trails and gain renewal from these lands, we should all remember the work we shared and the fun and camaraderie we all experienced with Karen."
With Karen's passing, we've lost a pioneer in the fight to protect our wild spaces, but thankfully she's left a clear trail and a generation of inspired, empowered advocates to continue her work.
Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to help my state take a great step forward in protecting our environment, improving recreation and supporting economic development by supporting the Wild Sky Wilderness Act.