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Originally published July 28, 2010 at 8:43 PM | Page modified July 28, 2010 at 8:46 PM

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Wilderness, logging proposal pushed

Revamping the way forestlands are managed in Washington's northeast corner would make environmentalists happy, but it also would do much more, from increasing tourism and jobs in the area to setting aside land for timber harvesting, said Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman on Wednesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Revamping the way forestlands are managed in Washington's northeast corner would make environmentalists happy, but it also would do much more, from increasing tourism and jobs in the area to setting aside land for timber harvesting, said Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman on Wednesday.

The group announced in a news conference at the University of Washington its proposal to designate more than 180,000 acres as protected wilderness. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, have said they intend to review the group's final proposal and Cantwell hopes eventually to introduce related legislation in Congress.

Setting aside more land as wilderness would attract tourism from the Seattle and Spokane areas, providing more job opportunities in a region with a notoriously high unemployment rate, Friedman said at the UW's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The timber industry also would benefit, since the proposal designates about 417,000 acres for harvesting timber, he added. The proposal is the culmination of years of talks between the group run by Friedman, the former EarthFirst! tree-sitter, and logging companies.

The proposal also suggests designating about 146,000 acres as national conservation areas, which would allow old forests to be revitalized. Though this area would not allow access to recreational vehicles, an additional 70,000 acres would be designated as national recreation areas, which would allow for all types of recreation.

An additional 424,000 acres would be forest-restoration areas, where forests and wildlife would be protected and redeveloped and where recreational vehicles would be allowed on existing roads.

Maurice Williamson, a member of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, said he understood that "preserving wilderness is an essential part" of the state's future. He also said he appreciated environmentalists' recognition that the timber industry plays a huge financial role in Washington.

The forestry coalition is a collaborative organization of environmentalists and the timber industry.

Friedman said the group designated areas for different uses based on the fragility of wildlife and ecosystems there. It suggested the wilderness be protected where more species exist in small, concentrated areas.

"We don't just want wilderness and logging, we want the right wilderness areas and the right logging areas," Friedman said.

Gordon Orians, a professor emeritus of biology at the UW, said keeping designated wilderness areas close together was important because species must be given the freedom to roam so that they don't die out.

"A small local population is vulnerable to extinction — maybe there's a storm, or some disease spreads," Orians said. "As long as we haven't totally blocked dispersal, we can have an even distribution and species can survive."

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Keeping these protected wilderness areas together means cutting off some access to recreational vehicles. That's a problem, said Mike Blankenship, president of the Tri-County Motorized Recreation Association.

In Ferry County, "the local public input has been, we want more recreation, no more road closures and more timber harvest," Blankenship said — which is the exact opposite of what the proposal would do.

Blankenship said many of the areas targeted for protected wilderness status "don't qualify in any way, shape or form" because trails for vehicles already exist on the land.

Still, Orians said protecting the areas will be better for everyone in the long run. Nature enthusiasts would still be able to hike and ski in the wilderness, since such activities wouldn't harm species there, and the region's attractive peacefulness would remain.

Citing one of his favorite Chinese proverbs, Orians said, "The careful foot can walk anywhere."

Jill Kimball: 206-464-2136 or jkimball@seattletimes.com

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