Congress expands Alpine Lakes Wilderness northeast of Seattle

By McClatchy News Service

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WASHINGTON — It took seven years and four tries and wasn't pretty at the end.

But Congress on Friday added 22,000 acres of pristine ruggedness in Seattle's backyard, most of it the Pratt River Valley, to the 393.000-acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

That came after several days of frenzied lawmaking in the lame-duck 113th Congress.

Alpine Lakes was one of nearly 100 public-lands measures stuck into an unrelated defense-policy bill governing weapons purchases, pay raises for troops and other Pentagon matters.

The Alpine Lakes provision includes designating the 10-mile Pratt River and a segment of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, fed by Alpine Lakes Wilderness snowmelt, as Wild and Scenic rivers.

That makes the rivers off-limits to dams and other water projects.

The Senate passed the main legislative vehicle, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, 89-11.

But that final vote was held up a day by retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who exercised a procedural protest to the inclusion of the largest one-time expansion of the national parks system since 1978.

The House approved the defense-policy bill last week. The legislation is headed to President Obama's desk to be signed into law.

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, who introduced the original Alpine Lakes bill in November 2007, said he was thrilled to finally get it done.

The Auburn Republican said he hoped the expansion, much of it to the north and west of the current wilderness boundary, would economically benefit North Bend, Snoqualmie and other towns from visitors drawn by the new designation.

The fact that Alpine Lakes region is only a 45-minute drive from Seattle, Reichert said, makes it all the more a treasure.

Reichert got the bill through the House on his second try in 2010.

Sen. Patty Murray, its chief sponsor in the Senate, got the legislation approved in the Senate in 2013.

But the bill has never cleared both chambers in the same Congress.

The wilderness straddles the Cascades north and east of Snoqualmie Pass.

The expansion area includes a stretch of lowlands along Interstate 90. The law will permanently prohibit logging, roads, development and mountain bikes.

After negotiations with mountain-biking advocacy groups, the wilderness boundary was shifted to exclude the popular Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail, which is open to mountain bikes.

Instead, the trail was put under Wild and Scenic River designation, which allows mechanized and motorized vehicles.

Efforts to protect the Alpine Lakes area from mining, logging and other degradation began in earnest in the 1950s with the North Cascades Conservation Council.

It was the work of the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, the Alpine Lakes Protection Society and many Washingtonians that led to President Ford creating the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in 1976.

Other areas

Several other public-lands measures the Senate passed Friday deal with sites in Washington:

■ Iceboat Creek in Skagit County — home to bald eagles and salmon — will be declared a Wild and Scenic River.

■ Hanford's B Reactor near Richland will be one of three sites for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, to preserve the legacy of the U.S. atomic era.

■ The boundary of the Stephen Mather Wilderness and North Cascades National Park will be reconfigured to allow rebuilding a 10-mile stretch of destroyed road in Stehekin Valley, just north of Lake Chelan.

Last modified: December 13. 2014 6:15PM
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