Alpine Lakes Legislation Clears House Committee
Conservationists deem amendments as unnecessary and problematicJuly 31st, 2014
Wendy McDermott, American Rivers, 206-213-0330, [email protected]
Tom Uniack, Washington Wild, 206-369-1252
Ben Greuel, The Wilderness Society, 360-670-2938
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Natural Resources Committee passed by voice vote a handful of public lands bills including the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (H.R. 361). The committee action marks the next step in a bill’s road to becoming law. Last year, legislation introduced by Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA08) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA01) received a House hearing and identical legislation introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) passed the full Senate.
“We are happy to see that this important bill passed the House Committee for the first time in four years under the sustained leadership of Congressman Reichert.” said Tom Uniack, Conservation Director for Washington Wild. “However, the proposed deletion of low-elevation mature forests along the Pratt Connector Trail is a great concern. These lands are worthy of wilderness designation.”
During the Committee mark up, the bill was amended including two boundary adjustments. The most controversial of these is a deletion of hundreds of acres of low-elevation forest land between the recently constructed Pratt Connector Trail and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. Local advocates view these acres as critical to the ecological integrity of the Pratt Valley Wilderness proposal as a safeguard from new mining claims and to protect riparian values. Additional language was added to the bill relating to military overflights, wildfire and buffer areas that proponents of the bill deem unnecessary.
“The legislation introduced by Representatives Reichert and DelBene and Senator Murray is the product of more than five years of input and revisions from local stakeholders resulting in more than 300 elected officials, local businesses, sportsmen and other supporters endorsing the bill,” said Ben Greuel, Washington State Director of The Wilderness Society.” The amended bill language is unnecessary and counterproductive and we will work hard to make sure that ultimately the original version will reach the President’s desk.”
Additional bill language added that puts additional hurdles in front of the designation and management of the two Wild and Scenic Rivers designations was met with strong concerns from conservation and river groups.
“Senator Murray and Representatives Reichert and DelBene’s vision to protect two of Puget Sound’s best rivers, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers, on behalf of local communities and outdoor businesses is one step closer to reality today,” said Wendy McDermott, Associate Director of Washington Conservation Programs for American Rivers. “Unfortunately, the House Committee made changes to the bill that don’t reflect the locally crafted efforts of Washingtonians and that weaken protections for clean water and salmon. We urge Congress to drop these onerous provisions.”
After significant outreach to local stakeholders, the legislation was carefully crafted by Congressman Reichert and Senator Murray resulting in strong local support. The bill has garnered endorsements from more than 70 local elected officials, more than 100 outdoor local businesses in the Snoqualmie River Valley and leading members of the outdoor industry, and nearly 150 conservation, recreation, hunting and fishing and religious leaders.
“Congressman Reichert is continuing the work that was started with the original Alpine Lakes Wilderness designation in 1976,” said Donald Parks of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society. “This bill would protect rare low-elevation old-growth and mature forests, fish habitat, and multi-season recreational opportunities and preserve some of Washington’s most treasured wildlands.”
The legislation would protect an additional 22,000 acres of wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, and would add 10 miles of the Pratt River and nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River to the National Wild and Scenic River System.
A coalition of conservation and recreation organizations has worked for more than seven years to advocate for this legislation. Those organizations include Alpine Lakes Protection Society, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Middle Fork Coalition, North Cascades Conservation Council, The Mountaineers, The Wilderness Society, Washington Chapter of the Sierra Club, Washington Trails Association and Washington Wild.
Originally designated in 1976, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area has since become one of the most popular wilderness areas in the country. The legislation would add an additional 22,000 acres to the existing wilderness area.
The proposed Wilderness additions are comprised of low-elevation forests whose robust wildlife populations include cougars, black bears, bobcats, elk, deer, and trout. The inclusion of low-elevation land will conserve diverse ecosystems, add to the biodiversity of the wilderness area, and protect recreation opportunities such as hiking, backpacking, climbing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
Washington State has only 200 miles of rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act – far less than neighboring Oregon which boasts 2,000 miles. This legislation would designate the first wild and scenic river designations in the central Cascades, targeting the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers. These rivers are home to world-class fishing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Their protection under the National Wild and Scenic River System safeguards high water quality for downstream residents and preserves critical wildlife habitat. These rivers will be protected as free-flowing streams that are within easy reach of a major urban center, providing residents of the Seattle area with increased access to water-based recreation.