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In Our View: Victories for Nature

Washington state benefits from actionstaken by federal government

The Columbian
Published: December 4, 2011, 4:00pm

Amid an avalanche of stress-inducing economic news pertaining to the future of our state, there has been a bit of bright news recently regarding the kind of Washington we will leave behind for future generations.

Legislation that would expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and that would designate the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie rivers as wild and scenic has passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. And Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, has announced that a proposed San Juan Islands National Conservation Area has been included on a list of sites for that special designation.

Such environmental concerns might seem secondary in a time of economic strife. Yet the continuing concern for the wondrous natural beauty of Washington says much about the priorities of the state’s residents.

Protecting and preserving and promoting the environment is not something that can be brushed aside, regardless of what other issues might be prevalent at the time. It is not something that can be ignored, because it is an issue that speaks to a legacy that will be judged for generations.

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness, spanning about 390,000 acres across the Cascade Range in northern Washington, originally was designated for environmental protection in 1946. But the initial designation did not offer protection from resource extraction, which led to further protections being established in the 1970s.

Today, the area serves as some of the most heavily visited and most frequently hiked wilderness in the United States. And its proximity to the large population centers of the Puget Sound region represents one of the unique features of Washington: an important synergy between the people and the pristine ecology.

The idea of expanding the wilderness is one that could pay dividends for decades or centuries to come, helping to ensure the peaceful coexistence between humans and the wild. It is one of the traits that makes the Northwest the Northwest, and it is one of the traits that those who live here hold dear.

That is reflected in the bipartisan nature of the bills that would expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and would protect the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie. In the Senate, the legislation has been spearheaded by Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. In the House, a companion measure is being promoted by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

Speaking of the Alpine Lakes area, Reichert, a former King County sheriff, once noted: “When I was the sheriff, this was an area where stolen cars and meth labs existed; it was a garbage dump. Now we’ve cleaned it up, and it’s a beautiful and pristine area.”

That speaks to the importance of diligence when it comes to protecting the environment. Such protections don’t come about by accident; they come about only through a concerted effort and an acknowledgment that such efforts are a priority.

That applies to the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area, as well. As Salazar noted in announcing that the area has been nominated for designation, support for the move is “both broad and deep in the local community. Those who expressed support include government officials, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals.”

That speaks well of Washingtonians. We have a long history of demonstrating concern for the environment, of working to make certain that our descendants can enjoy the same landscapes that we have enjoyed, whether those landscapes are the Columbia River Gorge in our part of the state or areas to the north.

Because, while there are other pressing concerns on which government needs to focus, preservation of the environment is one that must be ongoing and unrelenting.