Murray, Larsen Restart the Clock for Wild Sky Wilderness

Feb 19 2003

Fewer hurdles expected for Wild Sky in 108th Congress.

Washington, D.C. -- Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) have renewed their efforts to create a new Wilderness area in Washington state, something that hasn't been done in nearly two decades. Wild Sky Wilderness was on track to becoming a reality last year - Murray got the bill passed in the full Senate and Larsen through a House committee, before the clock ran out.

With most of the legwork done, Murray and Larsen are hopeful the new majority will continue this work for the people of Washington, and that bill can become law during this session of congress.

"This beautiful area will be protected for future generations to hike, fish, ride, camp, climb, and enjoy the great outdoors," Sen. Murray said. "It combines accessible lower elevations with majestic mountains and will be a resource for Washington. I hope that the new majority and the entire Washington delegation is working to preserve this area for the people of our state."

Wild Sky will designate over 106,000 acres of national forest in east Snohomish County as Wilderness. Traditionally, Wilderness has consisted solely of old growth forest at higher elevations. Wild Sky is a new approach to Wilderness and will protect approximately 14,000 acres of low-elevation old growth, protecting 25 miles of salmon streams while still making the land available for recreational use.

The area is located within 90 minutes of 2.5 million people.

Larsen explained, "Wild Sky is innovative Wilderness, unlike traditional Wilderness created in the past. Wild Sky was designed to be user-friendly. Senator Murray and I created Wild Sky to attract more families and outdoor sportsmen to the area. In the past, Wilderness has meant 'hands off,' but Wild Sky was designed to be 'hands on.'"

As negotiated last year, floatplanes will still be able to land on Lake Isabel, allowing fishermen and tourists to continue enjoying the area. Scout troops and other large parties frequently recreate near Barclay Lake and will still be able to do so. A section of land has been carved out of the Wild Sky area for the snowmobilers who enjoy spending winters there. In addition, both Murray and Larsen cooperated with a local timber company, Longview Fibre, to accommodate their timber interests. In working with the Forest Service, Murray and Larsen left out acreage slated for forest-thinning harvest.

"Wild Sky is the product of hard work and collaboration," Larsen stated. "Working with constituents, local businesses, and organizations ensures that Wild Sky will be a better place for everyone."

Larsen added, "Wild Sky will also have a great benefit on the local economy. Once more people begin to visit Wild Sky, they will enjoy other services that the surrounding towns have to offer. There will be more diners at local restaurants. People will fill up their gas tanks at local gas stations. Outdoorsmen will buy gear at local recreational outfitting stores. Wild Sky could be a dose of medicine for ailing local economies."

Mayor of Index Kem Hunter agreed, "As mayor of the town of Index I believe that the Wilderness area is going to be a very good addition to our economy. I'm interested in an economy that's based upon jobs that stay with us and jobs that stay with us are those jobs that are tied to the recreational opportunities that this Wilderness area would protect."

"There are 106,000 reasons to support the Wild Sky Wilderness area," Cantwell said. "I look forward to working with Senator Murray, Congressman Larsen, and other members of the Washington state delegation to make Wild Sky a reality. I plan to work in partnership with my colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to ensure early consideration and approval of this important legislation."

The carefully crafted bill was designed after consulting with constituents and a number of interested parties. Public meetings were held in both Index and Monroe. Over the last two years, staff from Murray and Larsen's office have been in constant communication with the local Forest Service. They have met with backcountry horsemen who will still be able to go horseback riding in Wild Sky. They have also worked with the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association, local tribes, Washington Snowmobilers Association, Snohomish County Emergency Responders, Washington Coalition of Citizens with disAbilities, and private property inholders.

In fact, the process was so inclusive that Idaho Republican Larry Craig said at the bill's Senate hearing, "You did it the way it ought to be done. It was an inclusive process."

Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Oreg.) who was Chair of the Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands, played an important role in holding a hearing on the legislation on July 30, 2002.

Wild Sky Wilderness has been endorsed by a number of elected officials, businesses and organizations including, but not limited to, Senator Maria Cantwell, Western Washington's congressional delegation, Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, Index Mayor Kem Hunter, Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI), Mountain Gear, Zumiez, Inc., The Backpacking Club, and the Washington Coalition of Citizens with disabilities.