Wilderness plan back before Congress - Patty Murray re-introduces bill to place 106,000 acres into 'permanent protection'

By Jim Haley
Everett Herald Writer


Snohomish, WA - Lawmakers will take a second run at convincing Congress that it's a good idea to permanently

The ability to allow public grazing and the possibility of building a reservoir for flood protection are two things Postema mentions as being thwarted by the wilderness designation.

protect a collection of ancient lowland forests and rugged peaks in eastern Snohomish County.

Bills earmarking the 106,000-acre section of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as the Wild Sky Wilderness were introduced Tuesday in the U.S House and Senate.

"Wild Sky is innovative wilderness, unlike traditional wilderness created in the past," said Rep. Rick Larsen, a Lake Stevens Democrat. "Wild Sky is designated to be user friendly."

He and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced bills, which had bipartisan support but came just shy of passing last year. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R- Bellevue, supported the bill last year and says she will sign on again.

"Senator Murray and I created Wild Sky to attract more families and outdoor sportsmen to the area," Larsen said. "In the past, wilderness has meant hands off, but Wild Sky was designed to be hands on."

Motor and wheeled vehicles are normally banned from wildernesses...

Most wilderness areas consist of old-growth forests at higher elevations. Wild Sky has about 14,000 acres of low-elevation old-growth and 25 miles of salmon and trout streams.

A coalition of conservationists applauded the new legislation, saying in a statement that they are optimistic that the Wild Sky Wilderness bill will pass this year.

It would be the first new wilderness created in Washington in nearly two decades. The proposed wilderness is north of U.S. 2 near the towns of Index and Skykomish. Private property is excluded from the proposal.

Besides the mountain peaks and low-elevation forests, it includes of rivers, lakes and hiking trails. It forms a critical link between the existing Alpine Lakes, Glacier Peak and Henry M. Jackson wildernesses, said John Leary, Wild Washington campaign director.

The Wild Sky bill was crafted after consultation with user groups and is the product of compromise.

Motor and wheeled vehicles are normally banned from wildernesses, but floatplanes would be allowed to continue landing at Lake Isabel, which is within the proposal's boundaries. Also, a paved trail for wheelchairs would be allowed.

Larger scouting groups would continue to use Barclay Lake, even though large groups are usually not allowed in wilderness areas.

A section of land has been carved out of Wild Sky for snowmobiles, and the legislators worked with the U.S. Forest Service to leave out acreage targeted for forest thinning.

Fishing, hunting, rafting, rock climbing, hiking and a host of other recreation opportunities would continue under the wilderness status.

Not everyone has endorsed the proposal.

The Snohomish County Farm Bureau's board of directors has asked for more information and public participation before deciding on the value of the proposal. John Postema, board president, has called for preparation of an environmental study before Congress takes any action.

The ability to allow public grazing and the possibility of building a reservoir for flood protection are two things Postema mentions as being thwarted by the wilderness designation.

Index Mayor Kem Hunter is a firm proponent of the wilderness, partly because he believes it will help the upper Skykomish Valley economy.

"I'm hearing there's no place to put a dam (on the north fork of the Skykomish River), even if you could put a dam on a wild and scenic river," Hunter said. He's also not aware of a location within the proposed boundaries where there could be grazing on public land.

"I've always been an advocate of the wilderness area," Hunter said. "I think it would be a wonderful thing for the future of our community."

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


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