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Christmas Comes Early for Alpine Lakes Supporters

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Monday, December 15, 2014   

SEATTLE - Some new wilderness is coming to the state of Washington as part of a pile of public lands and defense spending bills rolled into one big vote.

The legislation, which passed the U.S. Senate on Friday after approval in the House the previous week, adds 22,000 acres to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Snoqualmie Pass, about an hour from Seattle.

Tom Uniack, conservation director for the group Washington Wild, said it has taken three sessions of Congress to get this far.

"The founding fathers made it very difficult to pass a law, and for good reason," he said. "Even when you have local support like we have for these proposals, it still takes a long time. It's been seven years for the Alpine Lakes, but it's well worth the wait."

Together, the public lands bills in the National Defense Authorization Act protect about 1 million additional acres across the nation.

People might be surprised to learn that groups such as the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance supported the Alpine Lakes bill, since mountain bikes aren't allowed on wilderness acreage. But Glenn Glover, who heads the group, said a key boundary was negotiated early on to keep a popular trail accessible to cyclists.

"Washington has deeper roots for collaboration between user groups, and a willingness to actually sit down and talk to each other," he said, "not just when you want something from them, but to actually understand, what is it that both sides need?"

In similar fashion, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Suzan delBene, D-Wash., sponsored and championed the legislation.

The omnibus package also includes more miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers for Washington, on Illabot Creek, the Pratt River and the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie. Uniack said these are important because Washington has about 200 miles of protected rivers, compared with 2,000 in Oregon.

"Back in 2008, the Washington conservation community got together and really started a river renaissance, where we're really focused on protecting our Wild and Scenic Rivers, in addition to the wilderness we already have," he said. "The Alpine Lakes bill is kind of the first step in that process."

Wild and Scenic designation protects a river's free-flowing character.


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