Conservancy, American Rivers Support Designating Illabot Creek as Wild and Scenic
Federal legislation was introduced today that would result in permanent protectionMarch 19th, 2009
Robin Stanton, The Nature Conservancy 425-478-5641
Bonnie Rice, American Rivers, 206-931-9378
Caitlin Jennings, American Rivers, 202-347-7550, ext. 310
Seattle, WA — The Nature Conservancy and American Rivers today applauded Representative Rick Larsen and Senator Patty Murray for introducing new legislation that will designate Illabot Creek, a key tributary of the Skagit River, as a Wild and Scenic River.
“By introducing this legislation, Rep. Larsen and Sen. Murray are showing tremendous vision to protect the quality of life for people all around Puget Sound by ensuring that salmon and eagles will thrive long into the future,” said Karen Anderson, Washington state director for the Conservancy.
“Illabot Creek is important to the health of the Skagit River as a whole, and to the health of Puget Sound. If we are to restore salmon runs in Puget Sound we must protect streams like Illabot Creek. We are grateful Washington’s leaders recognize the outstanding qualities this amazing river has to offer,” said Bonnie Rice, American Rivers Associate Director of Conservation.
“A Wild and Scenic designation for Illabot Creek will protect this critical habitat for salmon, eagles and other species while preserving fishing, hunting and recreational opportunities for generations to come,” said Rep. Larsen. “Our legislation has strong support in Skagit County and I look forward to working with Senator Murray to build strong support for Illabot Creek in Congress. First, we did Wild Sky…next stop, a Wild and Scenic Illabot.”
“This is another step toward protecting the natural resources that set our state apart,” said Senator Murray. “Preserving Illabot Creek means protecting stream flows and water quality – resources that are vitally important to the many fish and wildlife that depend on the creek. For years, volunteers have dedicated their time to protect this delicate habitat. I’m pleased to be a federal partner in this effort to ensure this pristine creek is protected for generations to come.”
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. The U.S. Forest Service has recommended that Illabot Creek be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System due to these outstanding fish and wildlife values.
Given the important fish and wildlife resources in the Illabot Creek watershed, it has long been the focus of voluntary land protection efforts. In fact, 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.
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. However, 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 for critically important spawning habitat of multiple fish species from the stream’s lower reaches to the creek’s headwaters within the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. 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. 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. Additionally, this legislation would help protect the many investments that have been made to conserve the lands adjacent to Illabot Creek and bring them into public ownership.
Designation can also bring economic benefits to the surrounding region as well by supporting recreation and tourism and protecting the 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.