Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) helped secure passage through the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) of legislation to expand the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness by approximately 22,000 acres and to designate portions of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers, and Illabot Creek as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill in January 2013 with Cantwell signed on as a cosponsor. Murray and Cantwell introduced the Illabot Creek legislation in February 2013. Both pieces of legislation will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
"Protecting Washington's public lands is crucial to our economy, environment and way of life," said Cantwell. "The Alpine Lakes area and Illabot Creek are prime habitats for wildlife and popular destinations for recreation. Today's committee vote moves us one step closer to preserving some of our state's most beautiful lands for the next generation to enjoy."
The bipartisan Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act would add approximately 22,000 acres of new wilderness to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This addition would provide protection for low-elevation forests. The bill would also designate two rivers -- the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie rivers -- as part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Representatives Dave Reichert (R-WA-08) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House.
The committee also approved the Murray-Cantwell bill to designate a 14.3 mile segment of Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a Wild and Scenic River. The designation would protect the creek and important wildlife habitat, while maintaining recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing. DelBene and Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA-02) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House.
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 wild forests to an urban center in the country and provides diverse recreational opportunities.
Illabot Creek provides crucial spawning habitat for wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout. According to The Nature Conservancy, the abundance of salmon and the high quality of habitat found in Illabot Creek make the Skagit River watershed one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states.
As a member of ENR, Cantwell has been a key backer of efforts to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and to designate Illabot Creek a Wild and Scenic River. In November 2011, she helped secure passage though ENR of bills to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and to designate Illabot Creek a Wild and Scenic River. In March 2009, Senator Murray introduced legislation to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness with Cantwell as an original cosponsor. Cantwell also cosponsored legislation Murray introduced in 2009 to declare Illabot Creek a Wild and Scenic River.