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Stories from our First 45 Years—Speaking for the Trees

Posted on May 8, 2024 in Conservation News, WA Wild Blog, Wild Sky
Stories are powerful. They inspire and activate people, and people have the power to change systems and norms to make a shared vision a reality. Washington Wild was founded on Karen Fant’s vision for Washington State to see local grassroots efforts safeguard our wild places by utilizing the Wilderness Act of 1964. After 45 years of working to make that vision a reality, we have lots of stories to tell. And today, on this 16th anniversary of the Wild Sky Wilderness, Mayor of Index, Kem Hunter, shares a story from the decade-long campaign organized by Washington Wild.   

Photo of Gunn Peak, The Wild Outsiders

Speaking for the Trees

Surrounded by the towering peaks of the North Cascades, folks have long escaped to Index to trade in the din of urbanism for the gentle rustle of trees and running water of the North Fork Skykomish River. But on a rainy summer night in 2001, Index’s town hall was buzzing with energy. Despite the weather, the one-room building was packed with over 100 people, more spilling out the back door. The event was one of several public meetings organized by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02) to share information and gather feedback about their proposal to designate portions of the surrounding Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest as the Wild Sky Wilderness.   

For the two years prior, Washington Wild helped lead a coalition that had worked alongside the members of Congress to carefully craft the proposed Wilderness boundaries to protect more than 100,000 acres of old-growth and mature forests, and to build local support. 

Kem Hunter, the Mayor of Index, was key to unlocking that local buy-in. “When I was approached by Washington Wild to support the Wild Sky Wilderness proposal, I knew it would be a big ask,” recalled Hunter. “But I also knew that protecting the surrounding forest and rivers was the right thing to do for the Town of Index and those of us that call this place home.”  

As the clamor of the town hall gave way to formal proceedings, staff from Senator Murray’s office heard from more than 20 individuals. Throughout the two-hour meeting, most of the comments raised concerns about the potential impacts on hunting and fishing access, road closures, loss of private property, and government overreach.   

After a pause, a voice rang out from the back. It was Index resident, Bob Hubbard, who spoke against the prevailing sentiment by stating he thought the Wild Sky Wilderness proposal wasn’t big enough—the boundaries had left out a grove of ancient cedars, some 700 years old.  

While most of the concerns raised at the town hall that evening had already been addressed by the proposal, Bob Hubbard’s insight resulted in a change to the boundaries. When the Wild Sky Wilderness Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, it included what is affectionately known as “Hubbard’s Grove”.  

Beyond Hubbard’s Grove, the Wild Sky Wilderness protects 106,000 acres of roadless forest land and 25 miles of spawning streams for salmon and steelhead. A variety of other endangered and sensitive species also call Wild Sky home, including the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, bald eagle, mountain goat, pine marten, pileated woodpecker, cougar, wolverine, lynx, and grizzly bear. The Wilderness also offers some incredible recreational opportunities, like the hike to the top of Wild Sky, Gunn Peak.