Illabot Creek, Washington

Over the past several years, American Rivers has been working with The Nature Conservancy and other partners to ensure that Illabot Creek remains wild and free-flowing forever. In February 2013, a bill to designate 14.3 miles of Illabot Creek (H.R. 829) as a component of the National Wild and Scenic River System was introduced by Representative Suzan DelBene (WA-1st) and co-sponsored by Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-2nd). Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have sponsored a companion bill, in the Senate (S. 383), which passed by unanimous consent on June 19, 2013.

American Rivers will be working throughout the 113th Congress to ensure that the bill becomes law and Illabot Creek receives the long-term protection it so richly deserves. Illabot Creek is important because it is a key tributary of the Skagit River and a very special haven for two of the Northwest’s beloved icons – salmon and eagles. The creek has outstanding fish and wildlife values that would be protected and enhanced by Wild and Scenic River designation.  Illabot Creek provides crucial habitat for threatened wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout as well as for pink, Coho, and chum salmon, and is one of the two most productive bull trout streams in the entire Skagit River system. Due to the strong salmon presence, Illabot Creek attracts a large number of bald eagles, which roost at night in the stands of mature and old-growth forest along the creek. The area supports one of the largest wintering bald eagle populations in the lower 48 and two communal night roosts. The Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area is regionally famous for the magnificence of its bald eagle population.

Given the important fish and wildlife resources in the Illabot Creek watershed, it has long been the focus of voluntary land protection efforts. Through these efforts, the vast majority of the stream corridor, including the entire area proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation, has been brought into public ownership.

However, in the past, there have been several hydropower projects proposed on Illabot Creek that represented a serious risk to its thriving fish and wildlife populations, and these projects could come back again. Wild and Scenic designation of Illabot Creek would permanently protect its free-flowing character, water quality, and outstanding fish and wildlife values. Designation would also complement salmon recovery efforts in the Skagit basin and help protect the many investments that have been made to conserve the lands adjacent to Illabot Creek. Additionally, protecting headwater streams like Illabot Creek is a critical component of Puget Sound health and recovery and can also bring economic benefits to the surrounding region by supporting recreation and tourism and protecting the region’s quality of life.

The U.S. Forest Service recommended Illabot Creek to Congress for Wild and Scenic designation in 1990 because of its outstanding fish and wildlife values. Many other interested parties also support this legislation, including the Skagit County Commissioners, Western Washington Agriculture Association, Fidalgo Fly Fishers, Seattle City Light, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and many conservation and recreational fishing and paddling groups.

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