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Another Try for Alpine Lakes Wilderness Expansion

PHOTO: The Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion legislation includes Wild & Scenic River protection for almost 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snowqualmie River. Courtesy Washington Wild.
PHOTO: The Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion legislation includes Wild & Scenic River protection for almost 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snowqualmie River. Courtesy Washington Wild.
January 29, 2013

SEATTLE - The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area in the central Cascades could be expanded by 22,000 acres if legislation introduced in Congress gets a fighting chance this session. Similar bills have come up several times in past years, but never quite managed to make it through both the House and Senate.

It's a mystery to some, because the idea has strong local support and the backing of Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Dave Reichert. This time, there's even more bipartisanship on display, says Tom Uniack, conservation director for Washington Wild.

"Newly-elected Congresswoman Suzan DelBene has actually added her support as an original cosponsor. And interestingly, Suzan DelBene actually ran against Dave Reichert in the Eighth District a couple years ago," Uniack notes. "So, they've found a way to find common ground on wilderness and rivers."

The three introduced their companion bills (HR 361 and S 112) last week, with content exactly the same as last session's legislation.

Alpine Lakes has been a federal Wilderness Area since 1976. The expansion would add some lower-elevation land that is already a popular hiking destination, and also protect about 40 miles of the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers.

The Alpine Lakes expansion hasn't gotten much attention in a Congress with many other pressing issues, and in the last session, there was a stubborn aversion to passing any new wilderness legislation.

But Uniack says there's a better feeling about its chances this time.

"We've introduced this bill the earliest that it's ever been introduced, so we've got our place in line. The wilderness and conservation dam in this current Congress is going to break, and we're going to be first in line," he declares. "And so, once that happens, it's not going to be a matter of 'if,' but 'when.'"

Several hundred local business owners, elected officials and outdoor recreation and conservation groups already have voiced support for the legislation.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA