Wild Sky wilderness bill back in Congress
Almost five years after they first introduced the Wild Sky Wilderness Act, two Northwest lawmakers said they're confident that more than...
Medill News Service
WASHINGTON -- Almost five years after they first introduced the Wild Sky Wilderness Act, two Northwest lawmakers said they're confident that more than 106,000 acres of the Skykomish River Valley will be designated as federal wilderness, as early as this summer.
The announcement by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen came they submitted the bill in the Senate and the House for the fourth consecutive session of Congress.
Previous versions have passed the Senate unanimously but failed in the House largely because of resistance from the former chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who was defeated in last fall's election.
Asked for her thoughts on Pombo's removal, Murray, a Democrat, responded with a question of her own: "Can we just say, 'Yippee'?"
Still, because the Wild Sky act has never passed the House, it could face a longer trip through the committee process there than in the Senate.
Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, said he would meet soon with the new chair of the Resources committee, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., to determine if the bill could bypass a hearing and move quickly to a vote on the House floor.
Located about an hour and a half northeast of Seattle, Wild Sky would be the first federal wilderness created in Washington state since 1984. It's part of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which extends along the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains from the Canadian border to Mt. Rainier National Park.
Federal wilderness areas prohibit logging, commercial development, and the use of motorized vehicles, except for the purpose of maintaining the land and ensuring the "safety of persons within the area."
Tom Uniack, conservation director of the Washington Wilderness Coalition, which has lobbied for Wild Sky, said an important aspect of the proposed wilderness area is that much of it is low-elevation forest.
"It offers better access for people to actually be in a wilderness experience," Uniack said, as opposed to the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, which is largely "rock and ice."
Uniack praised Murray and Larsen for adjusting the Wild Sky proposal to meet the concerns of local residents and various groups. Changes over the years include excluding a popular snowmobiling area from the proposed wilderness region.
Wednesday, Murray and Larsen said Wild Sky's boundaries had been further adjusted to enable repair crews to rebuild an access road that had been damaged in recent storms.
In all, the proposed wilderness area has been enlarged slightly since last year, from 106,349 acres to 106,577 acres.
At previous congressional hearings, local residents expressed anxiety that creation Wild Sky could eliminate jobs, especially in the timber and horticultural industries.
But Murray said the new wilderness would help the local economy
"This is something that small little restaurants and small little places up in that area are very excited about," she said.
A month ago, Murray said she hoped to have a dedication ceremony on or around July 4.
Wednesday, Larsen said that "certainly sounds like a reasonable goal," but acknowledged that a timeline for the bill had yet to be set.
A Department of Agriculture official has testified that President Bush would sign the Wild Sky bill.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.