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A Business Plan for Washington’s Wild Lands

Posted on Mar 18, 2015 in Conservation Voices, WA Wild Blog

By: Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines Brad Tilden

MARCH 2015 As a kid growing up in Seattle area, I have very fond memories of hiking through the Cascade and Olympic mountains, and in particular, of hiking and camping in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness with my Boy Scout troop.  I came to love and respect our local forests and rivers. Today I still enjoy the chance, although less frequently than I’d like, to spend time in the Pacific Northwest wilderness hiking, camping and cycling.

That’s why I was pleased to hear about the passage of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Bill in December. The legislation expands the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness by 22,000 acres and protects 10 miles of the Pratt River and nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. Less than an hour’s drive  from Seattle, the proposed additions offer year-round hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing and camping in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River area.

I was happy to join executives from 45 Washington State businesses last fall to support Washington Wild, a major proponent of this bill. Together we encouraged our congressional delegation to support several deserving public lands initiatives pending in Congress. Three of those pieces of legislation became law, including the Alpine Lakes additions.

The strong response from business leaders in support of protecting local Wilderness and public lands through Washington Wild is not a philanthropic act. It is rooted in sound economics and good business. Recent research has confirmed what business owners in Washington have known for some time, that quality of life issues, like access to wild lands and waters or historic destinations, are key to attracting top talent to our region. Indeed, our employees at Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, and their families, enjoy our public lands and we are happy to host many visitors who fly here to enjoy the Wilderness of our beautiful state.

In addition to the quality of life benefits from being within an hour’s drive from snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers and ancient forests, there is a purely economic reason to support public lands protection. Recent economic studies document how the West’s popular national parks, monuments, Wilderness areas and other protected public lands have given its growing high-tech and services industries competitive advantages. Western economies like Seattle surrounded by protected wild lands and waters have outperformed the rest of the U.S. economy in key measures of growth–employment, population, and personal income–during the last four decades.

The Alpine Lakes additions are proof that when we bind together, we can get things done.  Washington Wild led a small band of conservation and recreation organizations to build strong local support by old-fashioned listening engagement with key stakeholders; two skills that I first learned earning my Business degree at Pacific Lutheran University and still serve me well today. As a result of these efforts, more than 300 elected officials, outdoor enthusiasts, local businesses, faith leaders and other stakeholders endorsed the Alpine Lakes additions because it would protect clean water, native trout, world-class outdoor recreation and the high quality of life that we all enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest.

At Alaska, we think a lot about the communities we serve and live in, and how we can help make them better.  Seattle is our hometown. We have three times more flights in and out of Seattle than any other airline. The majority of our 13,000 employees at Alaska and Horizon live, work and recreate here. That’s why it’s so important for us to be the best neighbors that we can be, including taking a stand for wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers and public lands here in the Evergreen State. Doing this requires bonding together as businesses, government, civic groups and individuals for the betterment of our state. That’s what being a community is all about.

The Alpine Lakes additions highlight another thing that sets Washington apart from other states—our ability to work both sides of the aisle to get things done. The Congressional sponsors of the Alpine Lakes legislation included Republican Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA08) and Democrats Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene(D-WA01). These sponsors continued the trail of bipartisan support for public lands in Washington State that Governor and Senator Daniel J. Evans and former Senator Henry M. Jackson blazed decades earlier.  As former Governor Evans was known to say, “there are no Republican schools or Democratic highways, no liberal salmon or conservative parks.”

I am so pleased that our state has come together to preserve a legacy that will delight future generations. I look forward to having my grown children, and their children, have the same access to the wild and natural beauty of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that I had as a kid.

Brad Tilden is chairman and chief executive officer of Alaska Air Group and its two subsidiaries, Alaska Airlines, the nation’s sixth-largest carrier, and Horizon Air, its regional affiliate.