Enviro report sounds alarm on wilderness - The proposed Wild Sky Wilderness is one of a dozen places considered in trouble by the Campaign for America's Wilderness

By Jim Haley
Everett Herald Writer


Snohomish County, WA - Lawmakers are working to permanently protect a big chunk of mountainous terrain in eastern Snohomish County, but environmentalists are worried that effort might fail.

That's why environmentalists listed the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness north of Index and Skykomish in a national report that describes a dozen natural "treasures in trouble."

"Until these special places are protected permanently, there is a danger, in some cases a grave danger, they will be subject to irreversible damage" such as logging, mining and drilling for oil, said Susan Whitmore, communications director for the Campaign for America's Wilderness.

The report, compiled by the campaign, extols the natural beauty of 12 places from Virginia to Alaska, where groups or lawmakers are trying to create new wildernesses.

The report was published two months before the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which established a national system for protecting certain lands.

In the case of Wild Sky, Congress has been trying for three years to pass bills that would create the first wilderness in Washington in two decades. The current 106,000-acre proposal includes rugged mountain peaks and valleys as well as one unusual feature for a wilderness in Washington - low-elevation forests.

Wild Sky is different from most state wilderness areas because it contains 14,000 acres of low-elevation old-growth timber and about 25 miles of salmon and steelhead spawning streams, all within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

There are no current plans to extensively cut timber or develop the area, but environmentalists say that can change with every new government administration.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a former Snohomish County councilman, is the prime sponsor of the bill in the House. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is leading the charge in the Senate.

The Senate twice has approved Murray's bills, but the House has balked.

The proposal this year is bogged down in the House Resources Committee, where chairman Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has declined to hold a hearing because of objections to the proposal.

One of the biggest objection is about 16,000 acres within the proposed boundaries that a lot of folks, including Pombo, don't think are suitable for wilderness designation. Some of the land had been logged previously, and some is adjacent to roads.

"We're still doing everything we can to communicate with chairman Pombo to get the legislation through the House Resources Committee," said Abbey Blake, spokeswoman for Larsen's office. "We're confident the (current) bill meets his guidelines."

Earlier this year, Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., entered the fray pushing for Wild Sky, but he said the bill needs some changes. The wilderness issue was thrust into the political spotlight because Nethercutt is running against Murray this fall.

"George's goal is to get something done. He would like to see a bill signed," said Nethercutt's spokeswoman, April Isenhower. She said he's attempting to address Pombo's concerns, although she doesn't believe what Nethercutt proposes will be a radically different proposal than the one now on the table.

While the political rhetoric continues, Whitmore said it's important for people to pay attention to these areas around the anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

"A lot of the time, people don't think about wilderness and that it might not be there forever," she said. "So we're taking a look at some special places that may not be around 40 years from now."

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or | haley@heraldnet.com.

Endangered places

Here are the other 11 "treasures in trouble" highlighted in the Campaign for America's Wilderness report:

* Teshekpuk Lake, Alaska

* Tumacacori Highlands, Arizona

* Los Padres National Forest, California

* Big Wild, Nevada

* Otero Mesa, New Mexico

* Lewis and Clark-Mount Hood, Oregon

* The proposed Tionesta Wilderness, Pennsylvania

* Fisher Towers, Utah

* Glastenbury Mountain, Vermont

* Crawfish Valley, Virginia

* Red Desert, Wyoming

The full report can be read at www.leaveitwild.org.



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