Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray announced that legislation she re-introduced this year to designate Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a Wild and Scenic River has passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The legislation would protect the free-flowing character of Illabot Creek, an important habitat for threatened wild Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other wildlife, while maintaining recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing.
Senator Patty Murray introduced the bill in the Senate earlier this year along with Senator Maria Cantwell. The bill has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene (WA-1) and Rick Larsen (WA-2).
"Washingtonians are proud of our state's beautiful wildlife and natural resources, and today's committee passage brings us one step closer to protecting the Illabot Creek for generations to come," said Senator Patty Murray. "I will continue working with Senator Cantwell and our colleagues in the House to protect this important, pristine area."
Illabot Creek flows for 14.3 miles through Skagit County, starting at Snow King Mountain 7,500 feet up in the Cascades and tumbling down to join the Skagit River at 500 feet above sea level. Illabot Creek provides crucial spawning habitat for wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, all threatened species, and is home to numerous other species including bald eagles that roost along the creek.
The Skagit River watershed supports one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Because of the abundance of salmon and the high quality of habitat, Illabot Creek is the center of foraging activity and supports two communal night roosts. One roost area is within the existing Skagit Wild and Scenic River corridor. The second is within the proposed Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic River designation. This abundance of bald eagles is a major attraction in Skagit County, and supports tourist activity, including the Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival.
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers of outstanding value in a free-flowing condition for future generations. The Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic River Act will prohibit dams and other water projects that impair the free-flowing nature of the river and establish a protected corridor extending one-quarter mile from the ordinary high-water mark on both sides of the river. Designating Illabot Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River will complement other local habitat protection and salmon and trout recovery efforts that are underway in the Skagit basin.
According to The Nature Conservancy, Illabot Creek and the surrounding area are home to the following species: Chinook salmon, Chum salmon, Coho salmon, Pink salmon, Sockeye salmon, Steelhead trout, Bull trout, Cutthroat trout, Marten, Roosevelt elk, Western toad, Bald eagle, Band-tailed pigeon, Blue grouse, Kestrel, Marbled murrelet, Northern spotted owl, Olive-sided flycatcher, Osprey, Pacific slope flycatcher, Peregrine falcon, Rufous hummingbird, Townsend's warbler, Western wood peewee, and the Willow flycatcher.
Having passed the full committee, the bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration.