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03/25/2010

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Expansion Passes the House

Late last week, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (H.R. 1769/S. 721) moved one step closer to final passage when the House of Representatives passed the bill on a voice vote.  The bill will protect an additional 22,000 acres of wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and would add 10 miles of the Pratt River and nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River to the National Wild and Scenic River System.  Sierra Club thanked Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA-08) for his continued leadership, advocacy and bipartisan approach to protecting the wilderness and free-flowing rivers in the North Cascades.

Alpine lakes 
Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service 

Originally designated in 1976, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area has since become one of the most popular wilderness areas in the country.  The legislation would add an additional 22,000 acres to the existing wilderness area.  These additions are comprised of diverse low-elevation forests with robust fish and wildlife populations that include cougars, black bears, elk and native trout.  The inclusion of low-elevation land will conserve diverse ecosystems, add to the biodiversity of the wilderness area and protect recreational opportunities such as hiking, backpacking, fishing, climbing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

The legislation will keep the entire Pratt River and the upper portion of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River in their present pristine condition.  These rivers are home to world-class fishing, kayaking and whitewater rafting, are within easy reach of Seattle and provide residents with easy opportunities to experience their free-flowing nature.

The protection of these valuable rivers under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System would also safeguard high water quality for downstream residents and preserve critical wildlife and fish habitat.  Together, Congressman Reichert and Senator Murray have developed legislation that protects some of Washington's remaining wild resources while ensuring future recreational opportunities.  Strong support has also been provided by the Washington congressional delegation, including Senator Cantwell and Representatives Inslee, Smith, Baird and McDermott, who were original cosponsors of the legislation.  The final action that needs to be taken is for the Senate to pass the legislation before sending it to President Obama for his signature.

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