Alpine Lakes bill gets bipartisan boost

By:  Seattle PI – Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle PI

A long-requested U.S. House hearing on Tuesday saw unusual bipartisan agreement that the closest Cascade mountain valley to Seattle deserves protection and that 22,100 acres in the mountains of eastern King County should be added to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

The testimony should boost prospects that the legislation can be sprung from the House Natural Resources Committee.  The panel’s anti-wilderness chairman,  Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has so far snubbed the bill even though a home state Republican colleague, Rep. Dave Reichert, is its lead sponsor.

“We will protect rare low-level forests, preserve important recreational opportunities, protect wildlife and by designating the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River and Pratt River as scenic or wild rivers, guarantee clean water for downstream fisheries for generations to come,” King County Councilman Reagan Dunn told a natural resources subcommittee.

County Councilmember Reagan Dunn:  He urges passage of Alpine Lakes bill.

Dunn is a Republican, and son of the late GOP Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn.  The legislation is cosponsored by Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene, and sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.  The Senate has already acted to approve the legislation.

The centerpieces of the legislation are the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, just northeast of North Bend, and its tributary the Pratt River.  Once a mountain junkyard, the  Middle Fork has been transformed  into a recreation destination over the last decade. Lakes at the headwaters of the

Pratt River are reached by a trailhead from the Snoqualmie Pass highway.

“The Alpine Lakes Wilderness, just 45 minutes from downtown Seattle, is one of the most popular wilderness areas in our entire system,” said DelBene.  “Countless local residents and visitors to Washington come to the Alpine Lakes to hike, camp, hunt, fish and enjoy some of the most spectacular open spaces that Washington has to offer.”

DelBene appealed for passage of another bill, one that would protect the lookout cabin atop 6,500-foot Green Mountain in eastern Snohomish County 

The historic cabin, built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, predates the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  The Forest Service rebuilt it a decade ago after heavy snows threatened to collapse the old structure.

The Green Mountain Lookout in Snohomish County.  Its fate rests with Congress after radical environmental group wins suit to force its removal.

After rebuilding, however, a Montana-based extreme green group called Wilderness Watch sued and won a federal court decision ordering the lookout’s removal — and saddling the Forest Service with a hefty legal bill.  With spectacular views, a lookout and fields of glacier lilies, Green Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the Cascade Range.

DelBene, Cantwell, Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., have joined with recreation and Snohomish County historical groups arguing that the lookout should be left alone.  The cash-strapped Forest Service would have to spend $100,000 to rip it down or remove it.

“Surely there are more critical needs to the agency’s central mission that moving Green Mountain Lookout from where it has been since 1933,” said DelBene. “Congress has the opportunity to save an iconic landmark while saving taxpayers money by passing the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act.”

If the Alpine Lakes bill passes, it will be the first addition of land to the national wilderness system since Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011.  The 2011-2012 Congress was the first since passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 not to protect a single acre.

But the Alpine Lakes has become a kind of “people’s wilderness” due to its proximity to Puget Sound population centers.

“Most folks who don’t live in Washington don’t realize that less than 50 miles outside Seattle is both wilderness and other forested land to hunt and fish in,” Dunn said.