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Originally published Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:05 PM

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Editorial: Time to catch up to Oregon in protecting rivers

Congress should approve bills adding more Washington rivers to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system, where the state is now woefully underrepresented.


Seattle Times Editorial

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MORE than 1,900 miles of Oregon’s rivers are protected in the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

Washington, in contrast, has fewer than 200 designated miles. That’s downright embarrassing for a state with thousands of miles of rivers that clearly qualify for the protection from dams and other intrusions that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 provides.

Congress has the opportunity to start whittling away at that deficit this year.

Approving the Wild Olympics bill, introduced last month by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, would be a giant step. It calls for wild-and-scenic status for 464 miles of salmon-rich Olympic Peninsula rivers.

Two other worthy, albeit more modest, bills are much further along the legislative pipeline.

The Nature Conservancy has been pushing for five years for designation of 14 miles of Illabot Creek, a small Skagit River tributary that spawns many of that river’s salmon and provides habitat for many of the Skagit’s wintering bald eagles.

The House passed legislation in 2012, but it died in the Senate. This session, a bill has been approved by the Senate, and by Pasco Republican Rep. Doc Hastings’ House Natural Resources Committee, usually a graveyard for conservation measures. That’s a hopeful sign.

The Senate also has approved an Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion bill that would add 37 miles — much of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and all of its tributary, the Pratt River — to the wild-and-scenic system. The legislation’s backers includes such Republicans as King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who’s been working for protection since 2007.

House inaction at this point is inexcusable. The Alpine Lakes bill is a slam dunk, as is Illabot Creek.

Much of the opposition to wild-and-scenic designation stems from misunderstandings about what the law does and doesn’t do. For instance, while it requires federal management plans for river corridors, those plans don’t govern what happens on private property, or override local land-use rules.

And almost all the land along the Pratt, Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Illabot Creek is in government ownership anyway.

Still more wild-and-scenic legislation may be in the offing. In the Yakima River Basin, a wide-ranging, compromise water-management agreement between farmers, tribes, environmentalists and governments calls for designation of 200 miles of tributaries.

That proposal, and the Illabot, Alpine Lakes and Wild Olympics bills, are encouraging signs that Washington may be getting as serious as its neighbor to the south about protecting its best free-flowing rivers.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).




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