Senate Committee passes important legislation to preserve North Cascades treasures

Dec 16, 2009

SEATTLE — Today conservationists and recreational enthusiasts celebrated the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approval of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection (S.721) and Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic (S. 635) Acts. These bills will protect an additional 22,000 acres of wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lake Wilderness Area, as well as 10 miles of the Pratt River, nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, and 14.3 miles of Illabot Creek — a tributary to the Skagit — as Wild and Scenic Rivers. Supporters praised and thanked Senator Murray for her leadership on and continuing support of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness additions and the Wild and Scenic River designations in the North Cascades. Designation of the proposed additions would protect wildlife habitat for salmon, cutthroat trout, elk, and other endangered or threatened species and would help to ensure the biodiversity of the region.

“This is a great day for Washington State and for celebration of our great national treasure, the North Cascades. Generations to come will thank our Washington state delegation for their efforts to ensure the future of Washington’s remaining wildlands and wild and scenic rivers,” said John Chelminiak, North Cascades Initiative Director for The Wilderness Society. “This legislation recognizes and preserves key recreation opportunities in the North Cascades for more than three million people in the region and enhances our communities by contributing to their economic vitality.”

“This is an exciting time for wilderness supporters,” said Tom Uniack, Washington Wilderness Coalition’s Conservation Director. “We applaud Senator Murray’s continued leadership to preserve these amazing places for all Washingtonians to experience and enjoy. This is a major step toward the final passage of this important legislation.”

The existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the United States. It is readily accessible to the large population centers of the Puget Sound region as well as to growing eastside communities. Visitors are drawn to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area for its superb recreation opportunities, which include climbing, backpacking, dayhiking, snowshoeing, and Nordic skiing. The protection and enhancement of these recreation opportunities provided by this bill are essential to the economic stability of many small towns throughout the region.

“The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is one of Washington’s most treasured icons,” said Donald Parks of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society. “Senator Murray is taking the leadership to continue the work that was started with the original Alpine Lakes Wilderness designation by adding important protections to rare low elevation old-growth and mature forests, fish habitat, and multi-season recreational opportunities.”

The proposed Alpine Lakes legislation would also designate 10 miles of the Pratt River and nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River as Wild and Scenic Rivers. This designation ensures the protection of clean water resources for residents of the region, as well as safeguarding critical wildlife habitat. The Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie rivers offer high quality water-based recreation, including world-class fishing and whitewater paddling.

"Few rivers anywhere in the country can match the quality of the recreational resources the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie and the Pratt provide for our communities," said Thomas O'Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. "As someone who has explored hundreds of river miles across the country and around the world, I can confidently say that we have some of the most spectacular river resources of any place in the world. Protecting the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is an important step toward preserving recreational opportunities for hikers, fishermen, and paddlers desiring rare opportunities for solitude and exploration close to downtown Seattle."

Illabot Creek, a tributary of the Skagit River, contains significant low elevation habitat and supports runs of 6 different species of salmon and trout which support the eagles in the Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area, an incredible natural and tourism resource for the region. “Today we celebrate along with other supporters from Skagit County government, recreation, and business organizations as we move one step closer to permanent protections for this magnificent resource,” remarked Bonnie Rice, Associate Director River Protection Program for American Rivers.

“Senator Murray and Congressman Reichert have found common ground and worked to protect it,” said Jon Owen, Deputy Campaigns Director for Campaign for America’s Wilderness. “They have continued the proud bi-partisan tradition for protecting wilderness in Washington state.”

Conservationists applaud Senator Murray for her bipartisan collaboration and leadership on these important pieces of legislation and recognize the leadership, along with Senator Cantwell and Representatives Dave Reichert and Rick Larsen. These additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and the designation of new Wild and Scenic Rivers protect remaining wilderness and critical wildlife habitat while ensuring future recreational opportunities and vibrant local communities.

“Thanks to Senators Murray and Cantwell’s leadership these beautiful and valuable areas are one step closer to being protected for future generations,” said Mark Lawler of the Cascade Chapter - Sierra Club. “We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Murray to protect our low-elevation forests and free-flowing rivers in the spectacular North Cascades region.”

This joint release was issued by The Wilderness Society, Alpine Lakes Protection Society, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Campaign for America's Wilderness, Cascade Chapter Sierra Club, Middle Fork Coalition, North Cascades Conservation Council, The Mountaineers, Washington Trails Association, and Washington Wilderness Coaltition.