A Bipartisan Effort to Preserve Washington's Wilderness
When the doors closed at the Capitol at the end of December, the 112th Congress officially earned the inauspicious designation as the first Congress in nearly 50 years to fail to protect a single new acre of wilderness. For the first time in decades, our Representatives and Senators left our nation’s wild legacy behind. But, hopefully, new legislation and new efforts by members from both parties will ensure that is a mistake that is not repeated again.
This week, members of Washington State’s Congressional delegation reintroduced legislation that would help protect some of their state’s most prized wilderness and rivers. This bipartisan, bicameral effort was launched jointy by Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Representatives Dave Reichert and Suzan DelBene. Their Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Actwould add more than 22,000 acres of wilderness to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, and protect Washington’s Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie rivers under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Beargrass grows in the Bandera Area, to be protected under new legislation (Photo: Harry Romberg)
These 22,000 acres of wilderness provide prime opportunities for Washingtonians and tourists alike to hike, camp, hunt and raft, while at the same time supporting a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, elk, trout, bobcats and bears. And all that recreational activity means new economic activity for surrounding communities, creating new jobs and new revenue.
First introduced in 2007 and almost passed in 2010, this bill is evidence that protecting our wild places is not a Democratic priority and not a Republican priority but an American priority. With bipartisan support, it offers both parties a chance to focus on their shared priorities and pass sensible legislation.
Congress can act now to ensure that this vital ecosystem of old-growth forests, snowy mountaintops, and pristine rivers is preserved for future generations to enjoy. Turning this bill into law would prove that Congress has the ability to work together and preserve the legacy of Washington's treasured wilderness in the process. The inaction of the 112th Congress was a disappointment of historical proportions, but bipartisan, bicameral bills like these offer the 113th Congress the chance of a fresh, more productive start by restoring the longstanding traditions of cooperation and conservation.
--Devin Castles, Sierra Club Media Team