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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill Protecting Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area Passes Key Senate Committee

Posted by: Amber Benson

Today, Senator Murray announced that legislation she introduced that would expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and designate both the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic has passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Murray’s bill, S. 721, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act, would expand the existing wilderness by over 22,000 acres to include important lower-elevation lands and watersheds.

Senator Patty Murray introduced the bill in the Senate earlier this year along with Senator Maria Cantwell. The bill was introduced simultaneously in the House by Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-08), Congressmen Jay Inslee (WA-01), Brian Baird (WA-03), Adam Smith (WA-05), and Jim McDermott (WA-07).

“Today we have moved one step closer to new protections for the Alpine Lake wilderness area that will guarantee that this pristine environment is preserved as a legacy and natural resource for generations to come,” said Senator Patty Murray. “I was proud to join with Congressman Reichert to introduce this bill, and I will continue working until this important legislation is signed into law.”

“Washingtonians are now one step closer to enjoying an expansion of one of the most visited wilderness areas in the United States,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “In addition to promoting clean water and supporting diverse wildlife species, these additions will support the local economy by enhancing recreational opportunities.”

“With this approval by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, we are closer to protecting additional wilderness and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers,” Congressman Dave Reichert said. “I thank Senator Patty Murray for her leadership and diligent work on this bipartisan, consensus-based conservation effort. I’m pleased to see progress on our legislation continue, and will continue to partner with the Senator to protect these areas for generations to come.”

The existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1976 and is one of the most visited wilderness areas in the country. It is one of the closest blocks of wild forests to an urban center in the country and provides diverse recreational opportunities. Key elements of the new Alpine Lakes legislation include:

  • Providing the protection of the Wilderness Act of 1964 for the lower elevation lands, which will bring a richer diversity of ecosystems, including deeply forested valleys, into the wilderness area and increase its overall biodiversity. The addition of these lower elevation lands also has the direct effect of protecting a broader array of outdoor recreational opportunities easily accessible for wilderness enthusiasts.
  • Designating the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic, which would permanently protect the rivers’ free-flowing character, water quality and outstanding recreation, fisheries, wildlife, geological and ecological values. This designation provides for many recreational activities including unique backcountry hiking, kayaking, and white water rafting that is unheard of so close to a major urban center.

Following a long-fought victory to create the Wild Sky Wilderness in 2008, Senator Murray continued a tradition of collaboration to help protect public lands. Murray held meetings with stakeholders and a public workshop early in 2009 to discuss the wilderness proposal and hear local community input on the legislation. Washington Wilderness Coalition played a key role in those meetings. As a result of those meetings, Senator Murray introduced companion legislation in the Senate, and both versions of the bill include the new addition of Wild and Scenic designation for the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

Having passed the full committee, the bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration.

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