News Releases

U.S. Forest Service: President Bush Would Sign Wild Sky Wilderness

Jun 04 2003

At Senate hearing today, Mark Rey, commends Washington delegation for collaborative effort in developing the important legislation

Video of Sen. Murray's Remarks

WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- The Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaimed that President Bush would sign the Wild Sky Wilderness legislation if and when it is passed by Congress. Mark Rey, testifying at a Senate hearing today, added that Wild Sky “is a good bill” and praised the delegation for their inclusive work in developing the legislation.

“This is a good bill,” said Rey. “We commend you and the Washington delegation for the bipartisan nature in which you put it together. The legislation, if passed by the Congress, will be signed by the President.”

Added Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forestry, added “I don’t see that we have any big problems here.”

Senator Patty Murray and Representative Rick Larsen have worked for three years to develop the legislation which designates 106,000 acres of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a wilderness area. In drafting the boundaries of the area, Murray and Larsen worked with the local community, Longview Fibre, the Washington State Snowmobile Association, the Wild Washington Campaign, the Back-Country Horsemen, the Seaplane Pilots Association, Washington Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, Chelan County Public Utility District, and many others.

“This wilderness designation will enhance and protect recreational opportunities for our growing region,” said Murray. “More people and more families are turning to outdoor recreation on our public lands. The bill protects the area for today’s users, and it also seeks to open up new areas for climbers, hikers, hunters, and anglers.”

The next step is for the bill to have a legislative markup, which is expected this summer. During the last session of Congress, the Senate passed the Wild Sky Wilderness bill, but time ran out before the House could follow suit.

Murray’s testimony before the Public Lands and Forestry Subcommittee follows:

Remarks by U.S. Senator Patty Murray on the Wild Sky Wilderness Act of 2003
June 4, 2003


"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and Senator Wyden for including the Wild Sky Wilderness Act as part of your hearing today.

The Wild Sky Wilderness area will protect wildlife and promote clean water, enhance and protect recreational opportunities, reflect the diverse landscapes of the Puget Sound region, and contribute to the local economy.

This has been a team effort with many partners. I want to thank Senator Cantwell for being here. She is a strong supporter of this bill, and I really appreciate her assistance.

I especially want to acknowledge my colleague and partner in this bill, Congressman Rick Larsen. Rick has really reached out to the local communities to understand their priorities.

The bill before you today is result of over three years of discussion and negotiation with the local community, Longview Fibre, the Washington State Snowmobile Association, the Wild Washington Campaign, the Back-Country Horsemen, the Seaplane Pilots Association, Washington Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, Chelan County Public Utility District, and many others.

My colleagues and I have worked very hard to address every single constructive and timely concern that’s been brought to us. And I think you’ll see that because we worked so hard to address those concerns, this bill has broad support.

Working with the local and state snowmobile groups we excluded large sections of lands they identified as important riding areas. Snohomish County came to us with concerns about emergency communication capability and we’ve addressed this in the legislation. At the Index meeting, local resident Bob Hubbard expressed concern a section of 700-year-old trees had been left out. We added those 400 acres. We also worked with the Forest Service on various boundary, road, and management issues. Lastly, we adjusted the proposed boundary just prior to Senate passage last year to accommodate the bi-partisan concerns of committee staff.

There are many more examples of this significant collaborative process, and the bill is the better as a result. I am very grateful to everyone who has reached out to us and worked with us.

I want to stress how long my colleagues and I have been working on this issue and how much it has been in public spotlight. In June 2001, I took a trip through the area with Congressman Larsen, some local elected officials and residents. Since that time, the issue has received significant coverage in local papers. It has been the subject of editorials and letters to the editor. We’ve also held public meetings. Again, all of this attention has helped refine and improve the legislation when those with specific concerns and ideas have come to us.

Mr. Chairman, I have a few letters from groups and individuals I would like to submit for the record and the Committee’s consideration. They are letters of support from the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, the Seaplane Pilots Association, the Washington Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, John Leary of the Wild Washington Campaign, a group of 19 state, county, and local elected officials from the Snohomish area, Snohomish County Councilman Kirke Sievers, and Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel.

Briefly, Mr. Chairman, I would like to comment on an apparent misunderstanding of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Some people make the claim that any lands once touched or currently marked by human touch should not be included in designated areas. This “purity theory” has been debunked for decades starting with Congressional members who contributed to the creation and passage of the original act.

My own state’s great Senator, Scoop Jackson, once noted that this -- quote --“false so-called ‘purity theory’ ... threatens the strength and broad application of the Wilderness Act.” close quote

Furthermore, there are many examples of designated wilderness areas that include roads, culverts, houses, and other structures. The recent 2000 Virginia Wilderness Act passed into law includes lands harvested as recently as 1945. The legislative history of the 1964 Wilderness Act -- and subsequent designations -- clearly demonstrate the intended inclusion in wilderness of lands that have signs of human impact.

Now I’d like to mention just a few of the benefits the Wild Sky Wilderness Area will offer.

First, this wilderness area will protect wildlife and promote clean water by preserving the landscapes that host many native plants and animals. The wilderness is especially critical for threatened species of salmon, steelhead, and trout -- which are found in the North Fork Skykomish and Skykomish rivers and the many creeks that feed into them.

At a time when we are asking so much of our private landowners in our work to recover wild fish runs, I’ve always believed 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. More people and more families are turning to outdoor recreation on our public lands. The bill protects the area for today’s users, and it also seeks to open up new areas for climbers, hikers, hunters, and anglers.

Specifically, the bill directs the Forest Service to work with the public to develop new trails -- in and around -- the wilderness to expand public access to this remarkable landscape.

That leads me to the third benefit of this bill: Wilderness will contribute to the local economy. Even during the bad economy of the last two years, the outdoor industry retail sales have actually increased. That means more people are going out -- more often -- into our wildlands and the gateway communities that serve them. People looking for easy and quick access to nature in its purest form will see the Wild Sky as a destination. 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.

Another driving purpose behind the bill is the inclusion of low elevation lands in Washington state wilderness. Low-land areas in some of our current wilderness in the Cascades make up around only 6% of the designated lands. This proposal is made up of around 30% low-land areas and brings in important salmon areas into our wilderness system. These lands are a central component of the proposal.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to acknowledge all the witnesses who came from Washington state to provide testimony today. Ed Husmann is a long time member of the community and is representing the Snohomish County Farm Bureau. John Postema is another member of the Snohomish County Farm Bureau and is a local business owner. Mike Town has spent years in the Wild Sky area and knows as mush about the lands involved as anyone I’ve met. Mark Heckert, President of the Washington Wildlife Federation, represents the large number of hunters and fishermen who support the legislation.

Again, Mr. Chairman, your kind words last year -- and the time this subcommittee and its staff have expended on the legislation -- is all truly appreciated. I stand ready to work with you and the Committee on addressing any legitimate outstanding issues. I believe the Wild Sky Wilderness Act is significant for the state and local communities and hope it will be moved by the Committee soon."