Senator Murray Unveils Wild Sky Wilderness Bill

May 29 2002

Wilderness Designation Would Support Preservation, Recreation & Local Economies

(Seattle, WA) - Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, joined by Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewell and Index Mayor Kem Hunter, introduced their plan to preserve 100,000 acres of wilderness in the Snoqualmie National Forest.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Thank you, Bob [Bob Drewell] for that introduction. And thank you Mayor Hunter for your leadership. I want to thank everyone who has come together over the past year to help us protect a beautiful part of our state.

I'm proud to join with all of you as we unveil this proposal today. I want to thank John Phipps with the Forest Service. John, thank you so much for your personal involvement and the professionalism and dedication of your staff. I know that some of our requests for information and input had tight deadlines. I really appreciate the responsiveness of the Forest Service staff.

I'd like to express appreciation for Longview Fibre's cooperation in making some of their lands available that will enhance the Wild Sky Wilderness. The company has offered to sell 200 acres now and possibly other lands in the future.

I'd also like to thank the members of the Wild Washington Campaign who have contributed their time, energy and dedication to this effort. Without your help, we would not have reached this point today.

Finally, I'd like to thank the many other groups and individuals who shared their thoughts and helped us improve this bill.

This proposal reflects the values of our state and respects the economic and recreational interests of the people of Snohomish County.

Last week, Congressman Larsen and I -- along with many of our state colleagues -- introduced the Wild Sky Wilderness Act of 2002.

Our bill will protect an important area and keep it accessible for recreation and enjoyment for generations to come.

I want to start by talking about how this Wilderness proposal came together. Then I want to talk about some of the unique benefits of protecting the Wild Sky Wilderness Area.

For the past four years, I've been considering new wilderness legislation because our population continues to grow. And with that growth new areas are threatened with development, new species are becoming threatened with extinction, but we haven't added any new Forest Service wilderness areas since 1984.

As I thought about new wilderness, I wanted a process that would allow local communities to focus on a proposal affecting the national forest that surrounds them.

One of the reasons I picked the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a starting point is because it is so accessible to so many residents. More than 2.4 million people live in Snohomish, King, and Skagit counties and have easy access to this beautiful area.

In addition, this area of the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie Forest would bring in more low-land forests and streams than had been included in our state's past wilderness bills.

By including low land forests and salmon bearing streams, we'll bring new ecological systems into our state's wilderness lands.

And of course, the vast majority of this area meets the classic definition of wilderness as an area that has maintained its natural, undeveloped character.

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

Wildlife and Clean Water

First, this wilderness area will protect wildlife and promote clean water by preserving the landscapes that host many native plants and animals.

Native Americans and early 19th century settlers found this area full of wolves, mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, deer, and healthy runs of salmon, steelhead, and trout.

Today, we can still find most of those species here, but in much smaller numbers. If those animals are going to be here centuries from now, we need to protect their habitats.

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.

The wilderness area will help protect these upper reaches of water to ensure prime habitat and clean water.

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.

The Wilderness area will protect water quality and salmon habitat forever.


Second, this wilderness designation will enhance and protect recreational opportunities for our growing region. We all know that the population of Puget Sound is increasing rapidly. More people and more families are turning to outdoor recreation on our public lands. They're escaping the hectic pace of our workdays and enjoying nature's scenic beauty.

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.

Economy of Local Communities

That leads me to the third benefit of this bill: Wilderness will contribute to the local economy.

Even in this bad economic year, many in the outdoor industry have told me that retail sales have actually increased. That means more people are going out -- more often -- into our wildlands and the gateway communities that serve them.

The Wild Sky Wilderness will be designated on all the maps and in all the hiking books as a special place. People looking for easy and quick access to nature in its purest form will see the Wild Sky as a destination.

Every climber, hiker, hunter, and angler setting out to the Wild Sky Wilderness will be stopping at hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and stores in the gateway communities of Index, Skykomish, Monroe, Miller River, Startup, Grotto, Baring, Sultan, and Gold Bar. The rafters and horseback riders will be using guides and outfitters in the local communities.

The recreational economy appears to have grown even in difficult times, and we hope our bill will help improve the economies of these gateway communities.

Process Forward

Congressman Larsen and I toured the area with local leaders last July, and our staffs organized two wilderness workshops on the proposal last year.

I hope people in the surrounding communities and counties will take a look at this final map and provide us with additional thoughts. We hope to have a hearing on the bill in the Senate late next month and move on from there.

Again, I would like to thank the Forest Service and everyone else who helped us shape this proposal. We have received a great deal of feedback during this process, and I believe the proposal before you today presents the best means of: protecting our wildlands and the native species that rely on them while providing recreational opportunities that benefit the growing population and local economies. Thank you all for coming.