Today, during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) encouraged committee support for Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion legislation. The bill, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (S. 322), would add approximately 22,000 acres of new wilderness to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at Snoqualmie Pass. This addition would provide protection for low-elevation forests and designate two rivers -- the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie rivers -- as part of the Wild and Scenic River System.
"Just 45 minutes from downtown Seattle, Alpine Lakes Wilderness provides easy access for over two million people to breathtaking views of the snowcapped peaks and deep glacial valleys in the Cascade Mountain Range," Cantwell said during today's hearing."The expansion in S. 322 would add approximately 22,000 acres to the wilderness area."
"These additions will promote clean water and enhance existing recreational opportunities, which will support our local economy," Cantwell continued. "The bill also designates two rivers as an important component of the Wild and Scenic River System, both of which are recommended by the Forest Service for wild and scenic designation. Today, I encourage this committee to support expanding Alpine Lakes Wilderness."
Unlike the higher-elevation lands currently in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the lower-elevation lands proposed for designation are snow-free much of the year, providing important wildlife habitat when the high country is covered in snow. Designated by Congress in 1976, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness has become one of the most visited wilderness areas in the nation, with the Forest Service estimating more than 100,000 visits annually. It is one of the closest blocks of wild forests to an urban center in the country and provides diverse recreational opportunities.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests,Cantwell has been a key backer of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion legislation over the years. In March 2009, Senator Murray introduced the legislation and Cantwell joined as an original co-sponsor. In a statement to the Public Lands and Forest Subcommittee in October 2009, Cantwell expressed her strong support for the bill and helped pass it out of the ENR committee in December 2009. She has continued to be a vocal proponent on the subcommittee for this issue. When the bill was reintroduced in February 2011, Cantwell again co-sponsored the bipartisan measure.