Congress can protect two of Washington's treasures

TWO nuggets of good news about protecting beloved landscapes in Washington state run counter to the durable clichés about a do-nothing Congress and a volatile failure of bipartisanship.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., reports progress on expanding the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the designation of the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic.

Legislation by Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. A companion House measure is being promoted by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

The Alpine Lakes area was first designated wilderness in 1976, and the new effort moves the protection to lower-elevation lands.

This is some of the most heavily visited, hiked and enjoyed wilderness in America. Its proximity to a major urban area is an extraordinary bonus for those who not only enjoy the outdoors, but fuel a recreational economy with all those hiking boots, kayaks and white-water rafting adventures.

Another highly anticipated announcement came Thursday from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. He included the proposed San Juan Islands National Conservation Area on a select list of Bureau of Land Management sites for the special designation.

The recommendations for "crown jewel" status now go to Congress, where Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, are pushing the legislation. Salazar, who visited the San Juans in April, found support described by the BLM as "both broad and deep in the local community; those who expressed support include government officials, businesses, nonprofit organizations and private individuals."

Pursuit of the National Conservation Area recognition was endorsed by the San Juan County Council and the Whatcom County Council.

These special designations for the Alpine Lakes and San Juans do indeed create a legacy of rare, protected open space for future generations. But they also fit into a cultural, economic and recreational dynamic enjoyed by all — right now.