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Thursday, May 1, 2008 - Page updated at 11:11 AM

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House approves Wild Sky wilderness in Washington state

Associated Press Writer

Nearly six years after it was first introduced, a bill to create a Wild Sky Wilderness east of Seattle has cleared Congress, another step toward the first new wilderness area in Washington state in nearly a quarter-century.

The House gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would designate 167 square miles in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest north of Sultan, Wash., as federal wilderness, the government's highest level of protection.

If signed into law, Wild Sky, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, both D-Wash., would be the first new federally designated wilderness in Washington since 1984.

The bill also designates a site on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where hundreds of Japanese-Americans were forced from their homes on the way to prison camps during World War II, as a national historic site.

It also would designate a recreation trail in Oregon's Willamette National Forest in honor of former Rep. Jim Weaver, D-Ore.

The measure, which includes 62 proposals concerning to public lands nationwide, was approved 291 to 117.

The Wild Sky bill, first introduced in 2002, covers approximately 106,000 acres of low-elevation, old-growth forest.

A similar bill passed the House last April following a Democratic takeover of the chamber following a dozen years of Republican rule. GOP House leaders had blocked the Wild Sky bill for years, saying wilderness protection should be limited to areas untouched by humans.

Murray, who has championed the measure for nearly nine years, said it was "an example of wilderness done the right way," with support from a range of local groups and elected officials.

The proposed wilderness designation would block development and other economic activity in a sprawling area north of U.S. Highway 2 that includes habitat for bears, bald eagles and other wildlife, as well as streams, hiking trails and other recreation.

Wild Sky, named for the Skykomish River, is 90 minutes from Seattle and offers millions of people access to "rolling hills and rushing rivers and low-elevation forests," Murray said. The area now "will be preserved for generations to come," she said.

On the Net:

The bill is S. 2739. Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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