(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02) today introduced legislation to designate Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a Wild and Scenic River. The legislation will protect the free-flowing character of Illabot Creek, an important habitat for threatened wild Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other wildlife, while maintaining recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing. Larsen and Murray’s legislation has broad local support from elected officials, environmentalists, fishermen, agriculture, and other stakeholders.
“A Wild and Scenic designation for Illabot Creek will protect this critical habitat for salmon, eagles and other species while preserving fishing, hunting and recreational opportunities for generations to come,” said Larsen. “Our legislation has strong support in Skagit County and I look forward to working with Senator Murray to build strong support for Illabot Creek in Congress. First, we did Wild Sky…next stop, a Wild and Scenic Illabot.”
For more than 7 years, Larsen and Murray worked together to pass the Wild Sky Wilderness Act, which became law in May, 2008 protecting 106,577 acres of national forest in East Snohomish County and creating the first new Wilderness area in Washington state in 20 years.
“This is another step toward protecting the natural resources that set our state apart,” said Senator Murray. “Preserving Illabot Creek means protecting stream flows and water quality - resources that are vitally important to the many fish and wildlife that depend on the creek. For years, volunteers have dedicated their time to protect this delicate habitat. I’m pleased to be a federal partner in this effort to ensure this pristine creek is protected for generations to come.”
Illabot Creek flows for 14.3 miles through Skagit County, starting at Snow King Mountain 7,500 feet up in the Cascades and tumbling down to join the Skagit River at 500 feet above sea level. Illabot Creek provides crucial spawning habitat for the wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, all threatened species, and is home to numerous other species including bald eagles that roost along the creek.
“Illabot Creek is so important for salmon, the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest,” said Karen Anderson, Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy. “By introducing this legislation to designate Illabot Creek as a Wild and Scenic River, Rep. Larsen and Sen. Murray are taking an important step to ensure salmon and the eagles that feed on them will thrive long into the future, and to protect the quality of life for people all around Puget Sound and in the state of Washington. It’s a legacy that will live on for generations.”
According to The Nature Conservancy, the Skagit River watershed supports one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Because of the abundance of salmon and the high quality of habitat, Illabot Creek is the center of foraging activity and supports two communal night roosts. One roost area is within the existing Skagit Wild and Scenic River corridor. The second is within the proposed Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic River designation.
“The Skagit County Board of commissioners would like to acknowledge its full support for federal designation of the Illabot Creek (a tributary to the Skagit River Wild and Scenic River in the eastern portion of Skagit County) as a Wild and Scenic River,” wrote the Commissioners in a letter of support. “Illabot Creek provides exceptional spawning and rearing habitat for many species of native salmon and trout, several of which are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.”
“Illabot Creek is important to the health of the Skagit River as a whole, and to the health of Puget Sound. If we are to restore salmon runs in Puget Sound we must protect streams like Illabot Creek,” said Bonnie Rice, American Rivers Associate Director of Conservation. “Wild and Scenic River designation will permanently protect Illabot Creek for salmon, wildlife and future generations, and we applaud Representative Larsen and Senator Murray for their leadership in introducing this legislation.”
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers of outstanding value in a free-flowing condition for future generations. The Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic River Act will prohibit dams and other water projects that impair the free-flowing nature of a river and establish a protected corridor extending one-quarter mile from the ordinary high-water mark on both sides of the river. Designating Illabot Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River will complement other local habitat protection and salmon and trout recovery efforts that are underway in the Skagit basin.
“Native salmon, trout and other species depend on Illabot Creek to survive,” said Patrick O'Hearn, President of the Fidalgo Fly Fishers. “We are committed to protecting critical habitat like Illabot Creek to preserve our wild fish populations not just for today’s fishermen but for the health of Puget Sound now and in years to come. We wholeheartedly support designating Illabot Creek as a Wild and Scenic River.”
“Where Illabot Creek meets the Skagit River is critical habitat for salmon, so it’s vitally important we protect the headwaters of the creek,” said Alison Studley, Executive Director of the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group. “We are very supportive of getting Illabot Creek protected and restored for the recovery of salmon species in the Skagit River and all of Puget Sound.”
“The Western Washington Agricultural Association and the farming community support actions like the Illabot Wild and Scenic designation that bring together the many stakeholders involved in the Skagit Watershed,” said Mike Shelby, Executive Director of the Western Washington Agricultural Association. “Protection of our natural resources is critically important and must be accomplished in a collaborative process that protects individual property rights while maintaining and protecting this important watershed.”
The legislation has the support of:
Skagit County Commissioners
Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group
Skagit Land Trust
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Western Washington Agriculture Association
Washington Council of Trout Unlimited
Washington Recreational River Runners
Federation of Fly Fishers
Seattle City Light
Fidalgo Fly Fishers
Paddle Trails Canoe Club
Washington Kayak Club
Wild Fish Conservancy
Seattle Raft and Kayak
The Nature Conservancy
According to The Nature Conservancy, Illabot Creek and the surrounding area are home to the following species: Chinook salmon, Chum salmon, Coho salmon, Pink salmon, Sockeye salmon, Steelhead trout, Bull trout, Cutthroat trout, Marten, Roosevelt elk, Western toad, Bald eagle, Band-tailed pigeon, Blue grouse, Kestrel, Marbled murrelet, Northern spotted owl, Olive-sided flycatcher, Osprey, Pacific slope flycatcher, Peregrine falcon, Rufous hummingbird, Townsend’s warbler, Western wood peewee, Willow flycatcher