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Some New Wilderness for WA, Too?

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March 27, 2009

Washington, D.C. - Washington State wasn't a big part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act just passed by Congress, but there may be some new wilderness acreage in its future, nonetheless. As Congress embraces the value of wilderness this month, two members of Washington’s delegation are part of the action.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) have introduced a bill to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area in the North Cascade Mountains by 22,000 acres. Reichert acknowledges it often takes years to get wilderness legislation through Congress, but says this bill is starting out with support from both major parties.

"It’s the idea of bipartisanship and working together to make this an area that all of us can enjoy. It oesn’t matter what party you belong to, protecting our wilderness is important to all of us."

The bill would also protect portions of the Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers. It took nine years for the newest Washington wilderness area, Wild Sky, to make it through Congress. Murray and Reichert say, what they learned from that experience will be useful in this one. Murray expects some opposition from those who believe wilderness protection keeps too much land out of use for development, logging and mining. Their proposal is to widen the current Alpine Lakes boundaries to include land at lower elevations.

John Chelminiak North Cascades Initiative director for The Wilderness Society, says that’s important because it makes the area more accessible to more people.

"It will be a spectacular place to take your children and experience wilderness without having to go to the top of a peak, almost virtually in the backyards of the communities of the North Cascades."

Reichert and Murray hope the additional acreage will attract tourism dollars for the towns in the region, including Issaquah, North Bend and Snoqualmie. They say they already have local groups on board for what may be a long ride to see the bill through to passage.



Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA