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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Murray submitted testimony at a hearing of the Public Lands and Forests subcommittee urging her colleagues to support legislation she introduced that would expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and designate both the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic. Murray’s bill, S. 721, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act, would expand the existing wilderness by over 22,000 acres to include important lower-elevation lands and watersheds.

Senator Patty Murray introduced this bill in the Senate earlier this year along with Senator Maria Cantwell. The bill was introduced simultaneously in the House by Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-08), Congressmen Jay Inslee (WA-01), Brian Baird (WA-03), Adam Smith (WA-05), and Jim McDermott (WA-07).

“Today’s hearing is another step forward toward expanding the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and adding new protections for our rivers,” Senator Murray said. “Conservation and preservation of our natural resources reflects the values I grew up with here in Washington state and I want to leave the same kind of legacy for my grandson and for future generations to enjoy. That’s why I was proud to join with Congressman Reichert to introduce this bill, and why I will continue working for this important legislation.”

“Today’s hearing is a significant move toward protecting the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers,” said Congressman Dave Reichert. “I would like to thank Senator Patty Murray for joining me in this bipartisan conservation effort; I’m pleased to partner with her. This legislation not only preserves the landscape for future generations, but also follows in the proud Washington State tradition of working together to protect public land in our own backyard. I am optimistic that the congressional committees reviewing our bill will recognize that it clearly fits the Pacific Northwest tradition of collaborative, consensus-based, environmental stewardship and swiftly move the bill closer to becoming law.”

The existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1976 by the late Congressman Lloyd Meeds and is one of the most visited wilderness areas in the country. It is one of the closest blocks of wild forests to an urban center in the country and provides diverse recreational opportunities. Key elements of the new Alpine Lakes legislation include:

  • Providing the protection of the Wilderness Act of 1964 for the lower elevation lands, which will bring a richer diversity of ecosystems, including deeply forested valleys, into the wilderness area and increase its overall biodiversity. The addition of these lower elevation lands also has the direct effect of protecting a broader array of outdoor recreational opportunities easily accessible for wilderness enthusiasts.
  • To designate the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic, which would permanently protect the rivers’ free-flowing character, water quality and outstanding recreation, fisheries, wildlife, geological and ecological values. This designation provides for many recreational activities including unique backcountry hiking, kayaking, and white water rafting that is unheard of so close to a major urban center.

Following a long-fought victory to create the Wild Sky Wilderness in 2008, Senator Murray continued a tradition of collaboration to help protect public lands.  Murray’s office held meetings with stakeholders and a public workshop early in 2009 to discuss the wilderness proposal and hear local community input on the legislation. As a result of those meetings, Senator Murray introduced companion legislation in the Senate and both versions of the bill include the new addition of Wild and Scenic designation for the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

The full text of Senator Murray’s submitted testimony follows:

 “Thank you, Chairman Wyden. I want to thank you and Senator Barrasso for including the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act as part of your hearing today.

“The existing 394,000 acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a treasure both in Washington state and across the country.  As one of the most visited wilderness areas in the country, Alpine Lakes Wilderness gives millions of people the opportunity to enjoy our public lands just a short drive from Seattle. 

“Today we are here to discuss the opportunity to permanently protect additional lands near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and to designate two rivers of great importance to the surrounding ecosystem as Wild and Scenic. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act will protect wildlife, 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 and I want to thank Senator Cantwell for being here. I appreciate her co-sponsorship of this bill as well as her assistance.

“I also want to acknowledge my colleague and partner on this bill, Congressman Dave Reichert.  Throughout this process, Dave has reached out to the local communities and stakeholders to understand their priorities.

“The bill before you today is the result of discussion and negotiation with the local community and interested stakeholders regarding issues such as mountain bike use, search and rescue operations, ski operations, and road and trailhead access.

“My colleagues and I have worked hard to address constructive issues and concerns that have been brought to us.  I am grateful to everyone who reached out to us and worked with us, and I think you’ll see that because we worked hard to address those concerns, this bill has garnered broad support. 

“Mr. Chairman, I’d like to mention just a few of the benefits the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act 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 home to abundant elk and deer populations as well as other animals and native fish populations.
“Second, this wilderness designation, along with the Wild and Scenic River designations will enhance and protect recreational opportunities for our growing region. More people and more families are turning to outdoor recreation on our public lands. This bill protects the area for users today and into the future, and will preserve existing road and trailhead access.

“That leads me to the third benefit of this bill: Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations will contribute to the local economy. Even during the tough economy of the last several years, outdoor industry retail sales have stayed strong. That means more people are going out more often into our wildlands and the gateway communities that serve them. The existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness is already a destination and these additional protections will add to the allure of this special place.

“Another driving purpose behind the bill is the inclusion of low elevation lands.  The proposed additions we are discussing today provide an opportunity to protect rare low elevation old growth and mature forests.  These low elevation lands were largely excluded from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in 1976, and about half of the lands included in this proposal are below 3,000 feet in elevation.

“Mr. Chairman, I have a few letters from groups and individuals I would like to submit for the record and the Committee’s consideration.  I know that Senator Cantwell also has letters to submit to the record and I hope to supplement those.

“I appreciate that Deputy Chief Holtrop from the Forest Service is here today to testify.  I understand that the Forest Service will provide some suggestions on the legislation, and I look forward to working with them.
“Mr. Chairman, I had the opportunity to visit the Alpine Lakes area this spring, and it truly is a special place.  Conserving and preserving our natural resources reflects the values I grew up with here in Washington State and I want to leave the same kind of legacy for my grandson and for future generations to enjoy. And this legislation will ensure that we protect these special places.. I appreciate your time today and I look forward to working with you and the Committee to move forward on this legislation.”