(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – At a hearing before the Senate Public Lands and Forestry Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Water Committee today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) urged her colleagues to move ahead with passage of her Wild Sky Wilderness bill.
The legislation, a collaborative effort between the offices of Senator Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen and local community, economic and recreational interests, would preserve 106,000 acres of wilderness in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Senator Cantwell, a member of the Committee, is a co-sponsor.
"The Wild Sky Wilderness Proposal reflects the values of Washington state and respects the economic and recreational interests of the people of Snohomish County. It will protect a unique landscape and make it accessible to families in the Puget Sound," Senator Murray said.
Despite rapid population growth, Washington state has not added any new Forest Service wilderness areas since 1984.
Designation of this wilderness area would protect wildlife and promote clean water, protect threatened species of salmon, steelhead, and trout, enhance and protect recreational opportunities for the region, and contribute to the local economy.
The Wild Sky Wilderness proposal is the result of more than two years of discussion and negotiation with the local community, Longview Fibre, the Washington State Snowmobile Association, the Wild Washington Campaign, and the Chelan County Public Utility District.
Kem Hunter, Mayor of Index, Wash. also testified in support of the wilderness proposal before the Senate Subcommittee.
"I have lived in Index almost half my life, and I believe the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness would be the best thing that ever happened in this valley," Hunter said. "The lower reaches of this proposed wilderness are accessible all four seasons, so visitors would provide a year round boost to our local economy. If the roadless forest land around us is protected with wilderness area designation, this new economy could help sustain our community forever."
Murray added, "This legislation will help preserve the way of life that those of us in Washington state hold so dear and help support local communities like Index. Every climber, hiker, hunter, and angler setting out to the Wild Sky Wilderness will be stopping at hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and stores in gateway communities like Index and Skykomish."
The Murray-Larsen bill was introduced in June. Today's hearing is the next step in making the proposal law.
Following the hearing, the bill must be approved by the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Senator Murray's full statement follows:
"This new wilderness area will protect a unique landscape and the wildlife that depend on it. It will offer recreational opportunities for thousands of families in the growing Puget Sound region. And it will strengthen the economies of the surrounding communities.
Best of all, it was developed with the cooperation and input of local residents and organizations throughout our state.
I want to especially welcome to our hearing, Mayor Kem Hunter of the Town of Index. He's taken time out of his busy personal and professional life to share his support for the Wild Sky Wilderness proposal. He really personifies the values we're trying to preserve in Washington state, and we're grateful that he's with us today.
As I mentioned, this has been a cooperative effort throughout. I want to recognize just a few of the people who have helped us reach this point. I want to thank Senator Cantwell for her strong support and commitment. I want to thank Senator Bingaman and his staff - Kira Finkler and David Brooks - for their help in developing this bill.
Finally, I want to thank my colleague -- and my partner in this bill -- Congressman Rick Larsen. He's spent a great deal of time on this proposal. He's reached out to the local communities to understand their priorities and include them in our bill.
The proposal before you today is the result of more than two years of discussion and negotiation with -- the local community, Longview Fibre, the Washington State Snowmobile Association, the Wild Washington Campaign, and the Chelan County Public Utility District.
Throughout the process, the staff of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest have responded to our questions quickly and with professional insight.
The Wild Sky Wilderness Proposal -- reflects the values of Washington state, and respects the economic and recreational interests of the people of Snohomish County. Mr. Chairman, the Wild Sky Wilderness will protect a unique landscape and make it accessible to families in the Puget Sound.
While our population is growing rapidly, Washington state hasn't added any new Forest Service wilderness areas since 1984. I want to briefly mention four benefits of this proposal.
First, this wilderness area will protect wildlife and promote clean water by preserving the landscapes that host many native plants and animals.
Native Americans and early 19th century settlers encountered -- wolves, mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, deer, and healthy runs of salmon, steelhead, and trout. Unfortunately, their numbers are shrinking, and we can protect them for future generations by protecting their habitat.
The wilderness will also help us protect threatened species of salmon, steelhead, and trout. As we ask private landowners to recover wild fish runs, I believe the federal government must do everything possible on its own land to achieve those goals.
Second, this wilderness designation will enhance and protect recreational opportunities for our growing region. It protects the area for today's users and seeks to open up new areas for climbers, hikers, hunters, and anglers. It directs the Forest Service to work with the public to develop new trails -- in and around -- the wilderness to expand public access to these remarkable landscapes.
Third, the Wild Sky Wilderness will better reflect the diverse landscapes of our region. Low-land elevations -- like areas under 3,000 feet -- are not a large part of our existing wilderness areas. Only 6.6 percent of all Washington state wilderness areas are under 3,000 feet. As a result, our current wilderness areas don't reflect the entire array of ecological systems.
Our proposal is made up of about 30% low-land areas -- including low-land forests and salmon-bearing streams. That will bring new ecological systems into our state's wilderness lands and better reflect the broad palette of nature's landscapes.
Finally, this wilderness will contribute to the local economy. People looking for easy and quick access to nature will see the Wild Sky listed in maps and hiking books as a special destination. Every climber, hiker, hunter, and angler setting out to the Wild Sky Wilderness will be stopping at hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and stores in the gateway communities in the greater Skykomish area.
Rafters and horseback riders will be using guides and outfitters in the local communities. The recreational economy appears to have grown even in difficult times, and I hope this bill will help improve the economies of these gateway communities.
Mr. Chairman, those are just a few of the benefits this proposal will bring. I've included more information on my Senate web site. And in a few minutes, we'll get to hear more about it from Mayor Hunter. Again, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the Subcommittee's time and consideration of this legislation.
I believe the Wild Sky Wilderness Act is significant for the state and local communities and hope it will be moved by the Committee this fall."