Seattle– The House of Representatives passed legislation today to designate Illabot Creek, a key tributary of the Skagit River, as a Wild and Scenic River. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-2nd) introduced the legislation, H.R. 1593, in March. Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have sponsored a companion bill, S. 635, in the Senate. The Obama Administration expressed support for both bills during hearings in July.
“We are thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed this important legislation. Illabot Creek is one of the most important tributaries in the entire Skagit system for salmon and bald eagles, and it is key to the overall health of Puget Sound. We are grateful Washington’s leaders have recognized the outstanding qualities this amazing creek has to offer,” said Bonnie Rice, American Rivers Associate Director of Conservation.
“I have seen first-hand how important it is to protect the Illabot Creek habitat for endangered fish and wildlife,” said Rep. Rick Larsen. “This Wild and Scenic designation will benefit not only endangered species such as Chinook salmon, but also families who hunt, fish, and hike near this pristine creek.”
Over the past two years, with The Nature Conservancy and other partners, American Rivers has been working to ensure that Illabot Creek remains wild and free-flowing forever. Illabot Creek is a special haven for two of the Northwest’s beloved icons – salmon and eagles. Flowing from Snow King Mountain at nearly 7,500 feet high in the Cascades and tumbling all the way down to join the mighty Skagit River at 500 feet, the creek is crucial spawning habitat for wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, all federally listed as threatened, as well as pink, coho, sockeye and chum salmon. It is home to one of the largest bull trout populations in Puget Sound. Large numbers of wintering bald eagles roost at night in the stands of mature and old-growth forest along the creek and the stream produces a significant percentage of the salmon that feeds the eagles that congregate in the Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area.
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. Wild and Scenic designation would block dams and other harmful water projects while also protecting stream flows and the clean water that Illabot Creek provides. Protection of headwater streams like Illabot that provide cold, clean water is increasingly important in the face of climate change.
The designation would also complement salmon recovery efforts in the Skagit basin and would help to protect the many investments that have been made to conserve the lands adjacent to Illabot Creek and bring them into public ownership.
Wild and Scenic designation can bring economic benefits to the surrounding region as well by supporting outdoor activities and tourism and protecting quality of life. A diverse array of community members has come together to support the designation of Illabot Creek as a Wild and Scenic River, 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 recreational fishing and paddling groups.
A significant portion of the Skagit River and three of its major tributaries – the Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade Rivers – were designated in 1978 as National Wild and Scenic Rivers.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.