Illabot Creek and Alpine Lakes might not be as popular among Clark County residents as Salmon Creek and Vancouver Lake. But as Washingtonians, we share the statewide value of protecting our natural treasures.
That's why two recent environmental victories in the U.S. Senate should be praised by all residents of our beautiful state, and should inspire us to support similar efforts in the U.S. House. Legislation to designate Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a Wild and Scenic River was passed in the Senate last week by unanimous consent. In like manner, a bill to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness east of Seattle also passed in the Senate, with provisions for adding both the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie rivers to the Wild and Scenic list.
Both measures advance to the House, where their fate is uncertain. Similar legislation was presented in two previous sessions of Congress without final approval. This year, companion legislation regarding Illabot Creek has advanced beyond the House Natural Resources Committee. We urge all of Washington's Congressional delegation -- including U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas -- to support these measures because they (1) preserve the principles of conservation that help define our state's personality and (2) are supported by a cross section of environmental and economic interests.
That first group — environmentalists — consistently supports bills designating Wild and Scenic Rivers and expanding wilderness areas because they know it's the best way to preserve natural beauty. That second group -- economic-development officials -- understands that protecting nature is good for business and good for jobs. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., explains it this way: "Areas like Alpine Lakes help make Washington state unique, and draw visitors and talented workers to our communities. Wilderness areas also ensure the supply of clean water and vibrant wildlife populations."
Ask anyone who lives in or frequents the San Juan Islands about the importance of congressional action. Earlier this year, the San Juan Islands National Monument was created to protect Bureau of Land Management areas. These include cultural sites used by tribes for centuries, historic lighthouses, wildlife habitat and other pristine areas.
The Illabot Creek bill passed last week by the Senate would protect the 14.3-mile creek that plunges 7,000 feet from Snow King Mountain to join the Skagit River.
The Alpine Lakes bill would add 22,000 acres to a strikingly unique part of our state. Alpine Lakes, already at 390,000 acres, is just 45 minutes from the Seattle metropolitan area. It has been prized by backcountry hikers and other nature lovers since its creation by Congress in 1976. Designating the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie as Wild and Scenic Rivers would preserve the waterways into perpetuity as favorite destinations for hikers, kayakers and white-water rafters.
Despite the rancor running through Congress this year, there are ample reasons for the House to approve companion legislation to protect Illabot Creek and expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.