By Daniel J. Evans, Former WA Governor and U.S. Senator
October 2016 – Tucked in the Northwest corner of the continental United States, Washington State is often forgotten by the rest of the country. However, after a visit to witness the snow-capped peaks of Rainier, ancient forests of the Cascades and coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, most carve a place in their heart for this incredible place we call home.
Indeed, a large part of why so many of us choose to live, work and visit Washington State is based on the forests, mountains and rivers that surround us. Washington State ranks fifth among all states in acres of designated Wilderness. That legacy came about because an awful lot of local citizens and volunteers advocated for protecting these wild places to pass down to future generations. It also was a product of an increasingly rare bipartisan history of support for Wilderness and federal land protection within the Washington Congressional delegation.
My introduction to Washington’s wild places began as a youth hiking and exploring the Cascades and Olympic Mountains. My first real climb was as a Boy Scout from Camp Parsons to the summit of Mt. Deception, just two years after the Olympic National Park has been created by President Roosevelt. We struggled a bit, but we got to the top and I looked around at the other peaks, ridges valleys and lakes—all of the things that would make up hundreds of future hikes and adventures.
As Governor, I was approached by Congressman Joel Pritchard who informed me that legislation to designate a new Wilderness area stretching east of Seattle and west of Wenatchee between Stevens and Snoqualmie Passes was in trouble. The U.S. Forest Service was recommending that President Gerald Ford veto the bill. I called to ask for an appointment to speak with the President and was told I could have 15 minutes. In Washington D.C., I explained to the President the importance of protecting the Alpine Lakes and shared a large format photo book of the Alpine Lakes published by The Mountaineers. My 15 minutes turned into 30, interrupted by frantic staffers worried about scheduling. He just kept leafing through those images of rivers, streams and forests reminding him of his own childhood as an Eagle Scout, hiker and outdoor enthusiast. Several days later, he signed the bill, formally designating more than 300,000 acres as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
And later on, when I had a chance to serve in the U.S. Senate, we had the statewide Washington Wilderness Bill come up before us and that was a fascinating opportunity. We brought the whole delegation together and we kicked out all the staff members, to their ultimate chagrin. We met in Rep. Tom Foley’s office for two separate sessions, four or five hours a piece, and during that time each member of the house would talk about what they could support within their own district. Senator Slade Gorton and I corralled everything together, and we ultimately agreed on a wilderness bill that encompassed more than one million acres of new Wilderness designations for Washington State.
In my time in the Senate, I got a chance to use my experience and admiration with national parks, here in Washington and all over the country. There was a lot of demand for growth and expansion and doing new things within the national park boundaries. Nobody had really gotten into creating wilderness inside national parks before. It was seen as a designation for Forest Service and other federal lands. I thought that the three parks in Washington ought to be basically wilderness parks. The 1988 Washington State Parks Wilderness Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan and established a strong Wilderness legacy of nearly two million acres within Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades National Parks.
Over the last 30 years I have watched and supported groups like Washington Wild as they work hard to designate the next generation of Wilderness areas including underrepresented low elevation old growth forests and salmon spawning streams. The Wild Sky Wilderness in 2008 and the Alpine Lakes additions in 2014 are both examples of a committed approach to reaching out to local stakeholders and garnering strong bipartisan support for Wilderness designations.
The Olympic Peninsula is my favorite landscape in the state and I am happy to support the efforts of the Wild Olympics Campaign. Their local outreach efforts have resulted in legislation that would add to the Wilderness areas on Olympic National Forest designated 30 years ago and protect the first ever Wild & Scenic Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. The Wild Olympics bill has also taken great care to preserve and enhance recreational access to the areas it is protecting. By not impacting access roads or trailheads, it will retain access and highlight these wild places to individuals who are likely to be active supporters of protecting the wilderness experience.
Dan Evans was a recipient of the Washington Wild Conservation Voices Award, given each year to an individual who has lent his or her voice as a compelling messenger in support of protecting Washington’s wild lands and waters.