State Senate OKs bill that would bolster wildlife corridor

By Richard Roesler
The Spokesman-Review

Feb. 15, 2008

At last.

After years of second-city status, Spokane would finally get its due under a bill passed Wednesday by the Washington state Senate.

Senate Bill 5318 would require state fish and wildlife officials to work with their American and Canadian counterparts to protect a massive wildlife corridor known as the Yellowstone to Yukon Eco-Region. The 2,000-mile-long swath, which proponents call Y2Y, includes the northeast corner of Washington, most of Idaho and much of Montana.

And the U.S. "capital" of the region would be Spokane.

"I hadn't realized this, but Spokane's the second-largest metropolitan area in the region, and it is the gateway from here," said the bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle.

But what Jacobsen saw as a modest proposal prompted a clash Wednesday, with critics suggesting that northeastern Washington is being set up for more land-use restrictions.

"If you live or own property in this area, you should be shaking in your boots right now," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Stretching from Canada's Yukon Territory through British Columbia and as far south as Wyoming, the Y2Y region is the world's second-largest animal-migration corridor, Jacobsen said.

"It's a unique area, and all this says is we should participate in helping it," he told lawmakers.

Except for one extinct type of minnow, Jacobsen said, the plants and animals in northeastern Washington are the same as when Lewis and Clark came through.

Proponents of protecting the Y2Y corridor say they want to foster the coexistence of humans and the ecosystem and hope to see land-use decisions in the region based primarily on ecological principles.

Critics, who include every Republican in the Senate, blasted the idea. Benton suggested that preserving the wildlife corridor would lead to closing roads.

"That's pretty scary, isn't it?" he said. "Road closures. Do we want to close I-90 going through Spokane because of the Y2Y program?"

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, decried the whole idea, including the naming of Spokane as the region's capital.

"The audacity, for a group — 90 percent of their group are Canadians — declaring Spokane as the capital for their endeavors, is preposterous!" Morton, visibly angry, told the Senate.

And Morton, suggesting that the corridor would bring more grizzly bears and wolves to the region, sounded unimpressed with the Lewis-and-Clark-era ecosystem.

"We don't want to go back to those days," he said. "They ate three of their horses when they were in this area, in order to make it through."

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, suggested that Canadians should focus instead on trying to stop drug trafficking into northeastern Washington. That's needed more than "a walkway for our animals," she said.

If anything, Roach said, the state should set up an advisory ballot so residents can weigh in.

"When they want this, then we vote for it," agreed Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. "For now, I'm voting no."

Proponents appeared to be caught off-guard by the resistance.

"There's nothing regulatory in the bill," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia. "And actually it might even be good for tourism."

As for the clause declaring Spokane the capital: Jacobsen said he just added that "so people would think to go to it. It's no plot."

"Maybe we ought to read the bill," Jacobsen suggested to opponents, citing a section that tells the state to try to involve local governments, landowners and conservation groups in planning.

The measure passed 30-19 and now goes to the House of Representatives.

"There's an old saying: If you're not at the table, you're on the menu," Jacobsen said. "I don't think northeastern Washington should be on the menu. It should be actively participating in this."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company



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