Nethercutt has own plan for Wild Sky

Matthew Daly - Associated Press
Spokesman Review


WASHINGTON -- Hours after formally kicking off his U.S. Senate campaign, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt endorsed a wilderness proposal in Washington state.

Nethercutt, a conservative who has drawn criticism for what environmentalists call anti-environment votes, said Friday he believes the proposed Wild Sky area northeast of Seattle should be preserved.

But he stopped short of formally endorsing a Wild Sky bill sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic incumbent in the seat he wants.

Murray's bill would permanently bar development in 106,000 acres in the Cascade Range. Supporters say the plan would protect bears, bald eagles and other wildlife, as well as promote clean water and activities such as fishing, hiking and rafting.

The bill has twice passed the Senate, but has met resistance in the House, where Republican leaders have prevented it from reaching the floor for an up-or-down vote. GOP leaders have said they are concerned the bill may go too far to halt logging and other economic activity.

“Most people don't think there's any chance in the world that the Senate-passed version will get through the House Resources Committee,” Nethercutt said Friday in a statement. “I believe I can get a version through the committee that is as good, if not better (than the Senate bill). That's my goal, that's what I'm working for.”

Nethercutt, of Spokane, toured the proposed Wild Sky region last month with Dan Evans, a Republican former governor of Washington state, and has met twice in recent weeks with Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Resources panel.

Pombo “understands my feelings,” Nethercutt said. “He will work with me to get a bill -- one that really is protective and acceptable to those to want to preserve the area.”

Nethercutt's support of Wild Sky comes as Pombo softened his longtime opposition to wilderness bills. In a letter Thursday to House members, Pombo said he would be willing to support some wilderness designations under certain, limited conditions.

Specifically, Pombo said wilderness proposals must meet a strict “test of suitability” that considers a wide variety of uses, and they must have demonstrated local support.

“Absent these two fundamental criteria, wilderness designations often result in lasting controversy and a sense of resentment in local affected communities,” Pombo wrote.

Alex Glass, a spokeswoman for Murray, said her boss welcomed Nethercutt's support.

“We're glad he's finally on board,” she said.

Glass and other supporters questioned whether a new bill is really needed, noting that the Senate measure was twice approved with bipartisan support and is backed by a range of interest groups that use the wilderness, from mountain bikers to float plane operators, scouting groups and fishermen.

“It seems counterproductive to start anew,” Glass said.

As welcome as Nethercutt's support is, making significant changes to the current bill could end up killing it -- at least for this year, said Jim Young, Northwest representative of the Sierra Club.

“We certainly do need to point out where Representative Nethercutt has decided to vote against environmental protection and in favor of corporate interests,” he said.

The question for Nethercutt, Young said, “is whether he really is putting on some green lipstick for voters” by supporting Wild Sky. “Or is he changing his core political values in terms of how he will now vote on the environment, as someone aspiring to represent the whole state and not just a portion of it?”

Nethercutt spokesman Alex Conant said the congressman will introduce a Wild Sky bill in the next few weeks, with the intent of getting the measure approved by the House this year.



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