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WA on Fast Track for New Wilderness Area

April 18, 2007

A bill to create a new "Wild Sky Wilderness Area" in Snohomish County passed in the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, but it's a hurdle that has taken five years to clear. The Senate had approved the bill three times, but it sat in committee in the House. Mike Town of the group Friends of the Wild Sky says it probably would have stayed there, if not for the persistence of Washington's congressional delegation. Now, it appears to be on the fast track to become the nation's newest federally protected wild place.

"With the great work that Sen. Murray and Congressman Larsen did making this bill have very little opposition, it's kinda hard to see what could get in the way of this bill becoming law."

Its proximity to Seattle makes the "Wild Sky" the center of a thriving outdoor recreation business, and local communities had been waiting anxiously for the outcome of the vote. The area contains more than 100,000 acres of the Mount Baker-Snowqualmie National Forest, including 25 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat.

Town adds that the area is special not only because of its easy accessibility, but also its year-round recreation, and that means it's important to keep it from being logged, mined and developed.

"It has these tremendous low-elevation forests, which means they're accessible for most of the year 1000, 1500 feet or so above sea level. And most wilderness areas do not protect land that is of that particular elevation.

The bill (HR 886, S 520) now goes to a Senate committee for a hearing. It was introduced in May 2002, February 2003 and January 2005 by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA).

Chris Thomas/Eric Mack, Public News Service - WA