Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray announced that legislation designating Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a Wild and Scenic River has passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent. The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and companion legislation has been introduced in the House by U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and Rick Larsen (WA-02). The bill 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 like hunting and fishing.
"This bill would protect a delicate habitat and one of Washington state's precious natural resources for generations to come," said Senator Murray. "Preserving Illabot Creek is vitally important for the many fish and wildlife species depending on it for survival. This legislation will also support outdoor recreation opportunities for hunters, fishermen, and families to enjoy in perpetuity. I am so proud that after years of effort, we are closer than ever to preserving these spaces for future generations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to move this important legislation forward."
"Today the Senate acted to protect Illabot Creek's critical wildlife habitat and incredible sites for outdoor recreation," said Senator Cantwell. "Home to salmon and bald eagles, Illabot Creek exemplifies the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. This legislation is one step closer to becoming law and protecting Illabot Creek for wildlife and outdoor recreation for generations to come."
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. It provides a crucial spawning habitat for threatened species, including wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, and it is home to numerous other species including bald eagles that roost along the creek.
According to The Nature Conservancy, the Skagit River watershed also supports one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the United States. Because of the abundance of salmon and the high quality of the habitat, Illabot Creek is a center of foraging activity and supports two communal night roosts. One roost area is within the existing Skagit Wild and Scenic River corridor, and the second is within the proposed Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic River designation.
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 would prohibit dams and other water projects that impair the free-flowing nature of a 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 would also complement other local habitat protection and salmon and trout recovery efforts that are underway in the Skagit basin.
Similar legislation was previously introduced in the 111th and 112th Congresses. After being re-introduced in February, 2013, the Senate bill passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 22, and the companion House legislation was reported out of the House Natural Resources Committee on May 17. The bill enjoys broad local support from elected officials, environmentalists, fishermen, agriculture, and other stakeholders.
Having passed the full Senate and the House committee of jurisdiction, the legislation now awaits passage by the full House of Representatives.