Alpine Lakes: A milestone and a millstone

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

A bill to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and protect a mountain valley less than an hour’s drive from Seattle, passed a milestone in Washington, D.C., on Thursday by winning approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But a millstone hangs around the legislation, the the form of an ultraconservative Washington congressman who chairs the House committee through which it must past.

On a muddy, rainy morning three years ago, the bipartisan team of Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert proposed putting 22,000 acres of the wild Pratt River valley east of North Bend into the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.  They also proposed to protect the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Reichert was able to get legislation through a Democratic-run House in 2010, but it stalled as the Senate faced a post-election, Christmas season pileup of legislation.

Under Republican control, however, Reichert has not even been able to get a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.  Nor has the committee given a hearing to proposals for a National Conservation Area in the San Juan Islands.

“It has a lot to do with the faction of Reichert’s fellow Republicans in control of the House Natural Resources Committee,” said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club.  “It has been unresponsive to Republican colleagues, whether Mike Simpson of Idaho or Dave Reichert of Washington.

“These are proposals with broad support. I want to be an optimist. Eventually, even Doc will need to be responsive to the public and to Republican colleagues despite his desire not to be.”

But don’t hold your breath. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who sits on the Senate Energy Committee, celebrated Thursday’s progress, saying:  “Protecting Washington’s public lands is crucial to our economy, environment and way of life.”

Sen. Murray described the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie as “cherished natural resources” which need to be protected for future generations. “I was proud to join with Congressman Reichert to introduce this bill, and I will continue working with local stakeholders and my colleagues in Congress to sign this legislation into law,” Murray added.

They ought to tell that to Hastings.  The Middle Fork-Snoqualmie could — if Doc were to display a modest use of intelligence — be a model for Republicans showing that some can still channel the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt.

The valley was, in the 1990′s, rapidly becoming an alpine slum.  Appliances and stripped cars were dumped along its chuckhole-filled roads.  Visiting families and fishing enthusiasts had their recreation disrupted by gun practice.  A big meth lab was discovered in the valley.  A Russian group operated a chop shop directly beneath Russian Butte.

Citizen groups pressed for a cleanup.  The Alpine Lakes Protection Society started hauling garbage out of the valley.  Then-Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., secured road repair money, and more than $1 million to build a campground in the middle of the valley.  Recreationists have reclaimed it.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also passed out legislation that would extend Wild and Scenic River protection to Illabot Creek, a tributary of the Skagit River near Rockport.  The creek falls, in 14 miles, from 7,500 feet to 500 feet where it joins the Skagit River.

Although its lower reaches were trashed by loggers, Illabot remains an important Skagit spawning tributary for migrating fish, notably Chinook salmon.  The “Magic Skagit” is home to the most healthy salmon runs in the Puget Sound Basin.

The legislation protecting the Illabot is cosponsored by Murray, Cantwell, and Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.

It, too, must get through the House Natural Resources Committee.  The question to be asked is one familiar to generations of cartoon watchers:  What’s up, Doc?