News Releases

Wild Sky Wilderness Bill Passes Senate

Apr 10 2008

Murray guides Wild Sky to 4th critical Senate victory - Next stop: The House and on to the President's desk

Murray, Larsen: Wild Sky now steps from the finish line

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) led the Wild Sky Wilderness bill to its fourth victory in the Senate, clearing an important hurdle for it to become law.  The U.S. House of Representatives now must pass the legislation to preserve more than 106,000 acres of wild land in Snohomish County before it is sent to the President.

Murray, the lead sponsor of Wild Sky in the Senate, has spent years guiding the bill to passage four times.  Today’s fourth Senate victory comes after months of intense negotiations and working across the aisle with her Republican colleagues to overcome procedural hurdles.  It was included in a public lands and natural resources package, which was approved by a vote of 91-4.  

“Turning the dream of Wild Sky into reality has been a long, hard climb, but with Senate approval today, we are just steps away from our goal,” Senator Murray said.  “Wild Sky will give more than 2.4 million people from Snohomish, King, and Skagit counties easy access to hiking and camping in pristine wilderness for generations to come.  It will preserve a unique environment, and it will give nearby towns an economic boost.  So many people in Washington state are excited about Wild Sky – I’m thrilled we’re so close to victory.”

Wild Sky is the result of almost nine years of work by Senator Murray, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), and advocates across Washington state.  Murray and Larsen first introduced the bill in 2002, and Murray has previously pushed the bill through the Senate three other times.  Last year, it finally made it through the House for the first time.  To become law, the bill must clear the House once more and receive the President’s signature.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this long hike than Senator Patty Murray,” said Larsen, who will work with House leadership to schedule a final vote in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as possible. “Chairman Rahall of the House Natural Resources Committee has made passing Wild Sky a priority, and I look forward to working with him to get this bill through the U.S. House of Representatives one final time.”

The Wild Sky Wilderness Act 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. 

Wild Sky will preserve the pristine nature of the land, protect wildlife, promote clean water, enhance and protect recreational opportunities for the region, and contribute to the local economy.

On Thursday, Senator Murray also delivered a speech on the Senate floor, urging her colleagues to support Wild Sky.

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

Madam President, I rise to urge my colleagues to support the public lands and natural resources package we are considering today.  I, like many of my colleagues, have a vested interest in this bill.  It contains my Wild Sky Wilderness Act, which will designate over 100,000 acres as wilderness.  This proposal is the result of almost nine years of work by myself and Congressman Rick Larsen from my home state.  

It has the support of the vast majority of the communities around the area as well as outdoor enthusiasts, area businesses, and literally thousands of Washington state residents.

Wild Sky Preserves Important Land from Rapid Growth

Madam President, Congressman Larsen and I began working on Wild Sky in 1999 because we were troubled by the rapid growth in Seattle and the surrounding areas.  We are so fortunate in our state to have unique and beautiful natural landscapes – from the peaks of the Cascades – and the Northwest rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula – to the mighty Columbia River.  

But many of our special lands could be jeopardized if we don’t take action to preserve them now.  The Wild Sky Wilderness would ensure that 106,000 acres of rolling hills, rushing rivers, and low-elevation forest in Washington state’s Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are preserved for generations to enjoy.  

Madam President, I’m immensely proud of this legislation.  The proposed Wild Sky Wilderness area is just 90 minutes away from downtown Seattle.  It would give the more than 2.4 million people from Snohomish, King, and Skagit counties easy access to hike and camp in a distinctive Northwest landscape.  It also would preserve unique low-elevation ecosystems.  And it will give the surrounding towns an economic boost by increasing the number of visitors.

Madam President, I’m especially proud because so many people in Washington state are really excited about this wilderness proposal.  Newspapers have endorsed it in more than 50 editorials.  And more than 200 newspaper articles, op-eds, and letters to the editor have raved about it.

Madam President, this is the fourth time the Senate has considered this bill.  Wild Sky has passed the Senate unanimously three times because this body saw the value of this wilderness proposal, and recognized that this bill is something that my state supports.  Last year, for the first time, Wild Sky passed the House.  We are now so close to making it a reality.

Benefits of Wild Sky

So Madam President, with that in mind, I want to share with my colleagues some of the benefits this bill offers for my home state of Washington and why people in Washington state are eager to create the Wild Sky wilderness.  Madam President, since the days when native people and early settlers harvested salmon and timber from our streams and forests, people who live in Washington state have recognized the importance of our natural heritage.

We have a great tradition of respecting and enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds us. 

Washington state is home to tremendous natural resources, and we have a proud history of embracing our national parks and forests.  The Wild Sky area is already being enjoyed by of the many citizens, who hike, hunt, raft, and camp there.  And since we proposed designating it as wilderness, literally thousands of people have written Congressman Larsen and me to share their support.  Many of those writers told personal stories about their experiences in the Wild Sky area.  

Mike Town – a high school science teacher from Duvall, Washington – described introducing his students to a wild salmon spawning site near the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness.  Because that river’s headwaters are in the proposed wilderness area, the water is still so pristine that salmon are able to thrive.  Today, it’s one of the few places left in the Cascades where spawning salmon are still so numerous, you could walk across the river on their backs.  Mike called the river, “one of the greatest spectacles in nature.” And he added, “I cherish the belief that with federal protection for this area, my teenage students will have the ability to share the experience of spawning wild salmon with their grandchildren.” 

So the first reason we are so excited about Wild Sky is because it reflects the values of the people of Washington state.  

But another reason this bill has so much support is because we worked hard to accommodate the needs of the users of this area.  Early on in the process, we reached out to local stakeholders to gauge their interest and ask if they had any concerns.  We were able to work with them and address many of the issues they raised.  

We worked with Longview Fibre, a paper company that had some land in the proposed boundary.  As a result, we were able to draw out certain areas and prioritize others that the company was willing to sell.  We heard from local and state snowmobile groups, who were concerned that the boundaries of our original proposal shut out important riding areas.  So we took out the vast majority of those areas.  We ensured that floatplanes still have access to Lake Isabel.  We worked with the Forest Service and excluded heavily used areas around Barclay Lake and the only two areas where timber sales were being considered.  We made sure that Snohomish County and the Forest Service were comfortable with their emergency communication capability in and around the wilderness area.  And last winter, massive floods altered the path of the Skykomish River and displaced and destroyed parts of the road that provides access through the proposed wilderness area.  

Congressman Larsen and I brought together Snohomish County, the Forest Service, and local advocates to responsibly adjust the boundaries of the proposed wilderness to make sure that the road could be rebuilt and remain open for future use.

We Have Support from the Community

Thanks to this work, we have the support of many of the local elected officials and most of the surrounding towns and counties.  Local conservation, hunting, and fishing groups back this bill.  The Seaplane Pilots Association, and many, many local businesses have endorsed it.  And the Under-Secretary of Natural Resources for the Forest Service -- Mark Rey – has said that the President will sign this bill.

So Madam President, even though many people in Washington state understand and appreciate the value of wilderness – this bill has a lot of support because we were also willing to work with the diverse groups of people who have an interest in how the land is used.  This was truly a public process.  And although we could not meet every single need, we have made every effort to accommodate those who engaged in this process.  Thanks to their efforts, this bill is really an example of wilderness done the right way.  

Now, Madam President, I want to talk about the benefits of Wild Sky, because I’m really excited about what it offers residents of Washington state.  

Preservation

Madam President, several years ago I took a trip through the area where the Wild Sky Wilderness would be, and it’s hard to put into words how stunningly beautiful that region is.  A significant part of the wilderness is a seemingly endless expanse of meadows.  Rolling mountains are covered with stands of huge old moss-covered trees, some of them hundreds of years old.  From the ridges, you have incredible views of the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains.

This area is unique because of its relatively low elevation.  About a third of Wild Sky is below 3,000 feet.  So the Wild Sky Wilderness would bring new ecological systems into our wilderness lands that are under-represented now.  Wild Sky links forests and meadows and steep craggy peaks.  And it will create a protected habitat corridor for the wildlife living in the area.  

Madam President, native people and early settlers found this area full of wolves, mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, deer, and trout.  Salmon spawning grounds teeming with fish – like the one the science teacher, Mike Town, shows his students – used to be common.  But today, many of those species are struggling to survive.   

At a time when we’re asking private landowners to assist in recovering wild fish runs, I believe the federal government ought to do everything possible on its own land to help protect and restore wildlife habitat.

Recreation

Second, the Wild Sky Wilderness will offer new recreation opportunities for people in our growing region.  Wild Sky is unusually accessible because it is low-elevation and near an urban area.   So families looking for quick and easy access to nature will be able to enjoy this pristine land.  Madam President, climbers and hikers, hunters and anglers have already sent letters and e-mails to my office talking about the opportunities Wild Sky offers.

Mark Heckert, a fish and wildlife biologist from Puyallup, wrote that he has taken his two sons to camp, hunt, and fish in the Wild Sky area.  He wrote me about how much he values the outdoors and said he hopes to secure the Wild Sky Wilderness for his children to enjoy.  He said,“Wild landscapes like those provided in the Wild Sky provide the stage for a generational rite of passage where young boys and girls can discover their connection to the land.” 

Creating the Wild Sky Wilderness will ensure that Mark and his sons can return to Wild Sky country in the years to come.

Economic

Finally, Madam President, hikers, climbers, rafters, hunters, and anglers visiting the Wild Sky Wilderness will spend money as they travel through the greater Skykomish area.  Recreation enthusiasts will see Wild Sky listed on maps and in guidebooks as a special destination.  And those new tourists will stay in hotels and campgrounds, eat in restaurants, and use local guides and outfitters.  In recent years, the outdoor recreation business appears to have stayed healthy, even in bad economic times.  So Wild Sky will contribute to the health and future of the surrounding communities.

Closing – And Thanks

So those are just a few of the benefits the Wild Sky Wilderness offers.  Madam President, we have done a lot of hard work on this bill in the last eight years, and we could not have done it without the help of many dedicated individuals.  I’d like to take a moment now and thank those who have worked so hard to make the Wild Sky Wilderness a reality.

First, I’d like to thank Chairman Bingaman and his staff – especially David Brooks – for their help and unwavering support of Wild Sky throughout the years.  I’d like to thank Senators Crapo and Murkowski for all they did to move this package forward.  We couldn’t have gotten this far without their hard work.

I want to thank my staff – especially Doug Clapp, who helped develop this bill, and Jaime Shimek, Evan Schatz, and Mike Spahn, who have helped with the final push over the finish line.  Thanks to all my staff members, who have worked on this bill over the years. 

And I want to recognize the hard work and support of Congressman Larsen and his staff, Senator Cantwell and her staff.  And Under-Secretary Mark Rey and the Administration, who have supported this bill for many years.

And above all, I want to thank all of the people in Washington state who worked tirelessly to bring this idea from a proposal to legislation that will soon be on its way into law.  I’ll be back here once the President signs this bill into law to thank a broader list of people who have been essential to getting us this far.  But I’d like to note the work of Tom Uniack and Mike Town, who have been always been willing to answer questions, give tours of Wild Sky country, and who have worked with us every step of the way. 

All of that hard work has paid off because we now have a very popular bill.  Wild Sky will help my state take a great step forward in protecting our environment.  It will enhance our economy and improve our recreation opportunities.  Washington state citizens are eager for us to move this bill over the finish line.  I hope we can take one more step toward that goal today.