Senate panel OKs Wild Sky bill - Oppenents say measure doesn't have local support, is driven by Seattle enviromentalists

By Jim Haley
Everett Herald Writer

Everett, WA - A bill that would preserve 106,000 acres of forestland as a wilderness was approved Tuesday by a key congressional committee, and it next heads for a vote by the entire U.S. Senate.

Major land management agencies in WA and acreage

Federal Agencies
Forest Service (USDA) 9,189,418 acres
National Park Service 1,831,283 acres
Bureau of Reclamation 480,149 acres
Department of the Army 404,313 acres
Bureau of Land Management 395,929 acres
Department of Energy (Hanford) 363,612 acres

State Agencies
Dept of Natural Resources (upland) 2,975,136 acres
Dept of Natural Resources (tidelands/aquatic) 2,407,000 acres
Dept of Fish and Wildlife 461,036 acres
Dept of Transportation 152,464 acres
State Parks and Recreation Commission 107,619 acres

Indian Tribes
Yakima Nation 1,152,945 acres
Colville Confederated Tribes 1,119,269 acres
Quinault Nation 181,488 acres
Spokane Tribe 131,787 acres

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the Wild Sky Wilderness bill without debate following a public hearing in June.

"Today's Senate action is another important milestone on the path to preserving this pristine area for outdoor enthusiasts," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "Wild Sky will be an outdoor playground for the millions of people who live within a two-hour drive."

There has been no action on an identical bill in the House, despite a request by Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., for a public hearing before the House Resources Committee.

The Lake Stevens Democrat has asked the new Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Richard Pombo of California, for a hearing, Larsen spokeswoman Abbey Blake said.

The Wild Sky bill made it through the Senate at the end of last year's Congress but was among dozens of bills that were not acted upon in the final days of the session. Similar bills were introduced in both houses in February for a second try.

Jim Young, the Sierra Club's Northwest representative, on Wednesday prompted Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., to "take a leadership role and use her influence in the Republican-led House of Representatives to help move the Wild Sky bill over the finish line."

Dunn is one of about 20 co-sponsors of the House bill.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., helped push the bill through the Senate committee.

Cantwell said Wild Sky will be a "recreational treasure and a boost for the local economy."

The proposal would create the first new wilderness in Washington since 1984, protecting high ridges and old-growth forests as well as lowland timber stands containing salmon and steelhead streams.

The area in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is north of U.S. 2 and the towns of Index and Skykomish.

The bill has received little opposition at the federal level, but three of the five Snohomish County Council members earlier wrote a letter to the Senate resources committee questioning passage. The remaining two council members signed letters endorsing Wild Sky.

Council opponents echo sentiments of a group led by Snohomish nursery owner John Postema, who said the public hasn't been given enough information about Wild Sky and its effects. Postema maintains that the measure doesn't have local support and is being driven by Seattle environmentalists.

Tom Uniack, conservation director for the Washington Wilderness Coalition, noted that there were several public meetings, and the staffs of sponsoring Congress members worked for more than two years with a variety of user groups to accommodate concerns.

In June, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, said the Bush administration supports much of the bill. The only question he raised then was some 16,000 acres of timberland within the boundaries that were formerly logged or used for other commercial purposes.


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