By Patty Murray, U.S. Senator
Washington State’s wild spaces are among our most precious assets. Due to the foresight of past leaders, we have permanently protected some of the most special places in the United States. I believe we must continue to build upon the strong base of conservation efforts that have made our state what it is today.
Our public lands provide us with the quality of life that enriches our lives, and makes Washington such a desirable place to live. But more importantly, I want my grandchildren, and their grandchildren, to be able to visit these special places, and enjoy the same opportunities and experiences I have had.
Some of my proudest moments representing you in the United States Senate have come from our successful conservation efforts. I will never forget joining Vice President Al Gore as we announced the creation of the Hanford Reach National Monument. And just weeks ago, I was thrilled to be able to join so many leaders in the conservation community at the Elwha Dam Removal Project celebration. Walking across the Elwha Dam, you could literally see dozens of salmon butting their heads up against the dam, unable to head upstream. After years of concerted effort, and with the unwavering leadership of Congressman Norm Dicks, the dams are coming down, and Washington state will once again show it’s leadership and vision for protecting and recovering our cherished natural heritage.
But personally, one of the greatest moments in my legislative career came in 2008, when I was able to stand on the banks of the North Fork Skykomish River, along with Congressman Rick Larsen and so many of the leaders in the wilderness community, to celebrate the designation of the Wild Sky Wilderness. After eight long years of twists and turns, countless hours of meetings, and a community coming together, we created the first new wilderness in Washington in more than 20 years. I was so proud to partner with the local community, and in particular the Washington Wilderness Coalition, to turn the vision of protecting low-elevation forests and salmon streams into a reality.
The most enduring lesson I learned from Wild Sky was that our generation must continue to fight to build upon the foundation of environmental protections that we have been endowed with. In some cases, there are new wilderness and wild and scenic river designations that are extremely important. But conservationists must not lose sight on other important battles.
Moving forward, my priorities for a wilder Washington include:
Alpine Lakes Wilderness and River Protections – I will continue to work to pass legislation which I introduced with Congressman Dave Reichert to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and designate both the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic. This bipartisan bill would add more than 22,000 acres of low elevation forest to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and protect nearly 40 miles of river, including the stunningly remote Pratt River.
Illabot Creek Wild & Scenic Protections – Working with Congressman Rick Larsen, I hope to designate 14 miles of Illabot Creek as Wild and Scenic. Illabot Creek, in Skagit County, is a major tributary of the Skagit River. This designation would protect the river’s free-flowing characteristics and protect important habitat for threatened wild Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other wildlife. It will also maintain recreational opportunities, including hunting and fishing.
Forest and Watershed Protections on the Olympic Peninsula – Freeing the Elwha River is a historic moment, and allows us the opportunity to celebrate a hard fought victory. But we must continue to work to ensure that watersheds on the Peninsula remain a bright spot for salmon habitat efforts. I will continue to work with Congressman Norm Dicks, the local community and tribes to determine how we can best protect the peninsula’s watersheds and forests.
Preserving Recreational Access – A key tenet towards wilderness and wild lands preservation is access. While it is challenging in some cases to come on consensus about roads in our special places, we must continue to provide adequate access for recreation to our wilderness areas. Without access, we lose connection to the land and effective advocates for protection and preservation. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, I am working to ensure that we fund maintenance and repair work for roads that are essential to accessing our public lands for recreational opportunities.
Land and Water Conservation Fund – The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a critical tool that allows for acquisition of important conservation lands. Working with my colleagues to provide adequate funding for LWCF remains a top priority.
Legacy Roads Funding – I will continue to advocate for federal funding to address legacy Forest Service roads that pose aquatic risks to our streams and watersheds. This funding not only saves taxpayer dollars by avoiding years of maintenance costs for old, decaying roads, but also produces restoration jobs in the local communities closest to the forest.
Moving forward on these priorities to protect Washington’s wild spaces will take strong partnerships. The Washington Wilderness Coalition has been a tremendous resource in facilitating dialogue amongst disparate interests, and working to help build the vision for a wilder future for Washington State. The work we do today will amplify and reinforce the wild lands policy we have implemented in the past, and allow us to keep the tradition of preserving wilderness for future generations.
Patty Murray is a Democratic Senator from Washington State. Her election in 1992 made her Washington’s first female senator.