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Monday, July 27, 2009

Hike Reports: Viewing the Pratt Valley

Posted by Terry Fernsler

Visiting the proposed Alpine Lakes Wilderness additions—from a different angle

Expecting cloudy weather, but getting an almost-perfect hiking day instead, I got myself up early to hike to Mt. Defiance and beyond recently. I like to go early for a number of reasons—the air is usually clearer in the morning for better photos, there’s a better chance I’ll see a large critter before they go to ground for the day, and I can enjoy the wild with few intrusions from loud-voiced people.

Mt. Defiance looks over the South Fork Snoqualmie River Valley and Interstate 90. It’s a rigorous, but not grueling, hike to the top of Mt. Defiance, starting at the trailhead of the Ira Spring Trail, at about 2,200 feet, and climbing in less than five miles to 5,584 feet. Not a steep climb, but long. From Mt. Defiance the trail goes on to Thompson Lake, on the western edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

I hit the trail before 6:30. The walk was pleasant, not getting into sunlight until I crossed the ridge above Mason Lake, where I passed from the proposed wilderness additions into Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I crept past the still-sleeping campers at Mason Lake. The trail reached the open meadow on the side of Mt. Defiance, and the views were fantastic. Mason Lake and Little Mason snuggled below, tucked between Mt. Defiance and Bandera (pictured below). Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma, although distant, looked very close. Flowers of many colors speckled the mountain side.

The side trail that goes to the top of Mt. Defiance is steep but the views (on a clear day) are well worth it. One can look straight into the heart of the western Alpine Lakes Wilderness, up the South Fork Snoqualmie Valley to Snoqualmie Pass, and even see Glacier Peak peeking out above the mountains to the north. In this photo (across the Pratt Valley) of Mt. Roosevelt, the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness comes down the mountain to just about the bottom of the bare rock. The proposed additions are down slope from there.

This is common to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and many of our state’s existing wilderness areas: the protected areas are high-altitude, often above tree line. Protecting forests, especially lowland forests, is important for ecosystem maintenance and preserving carbon sinks; that’s one of the things that makes the proposed Alpine Lakes additions so vital.

The trail between Mt. Defiance and Thompson Lake was not only more rugged and less traveled, it was wilder. Behind the slope of the ridge I could no longer hear the noise of the Interstate traffic, and the slopes on this side of the ridge are quite steep. The steep slopes offered terrific views of the Spider Creek and Thompson Creek drainages, both part of the proposed Alpine Lakes additions. In view below of the Thompson Creek Valley, nearly everything in the valley is in the proposed Alpine Lakes additions, right to the top of Preacher Mountain across the Pratt Valley. You can just see the Garfield Bench (which is across the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley) peeking over the shoulder of Preacher Mountain, and Cascade Mountain beyond that.

By the time I was coming back from Thompson Lake, the sun had been shining down on the trail for several hours, and the hike back felt much longer than the hike in. Fortunately, there was a gentle breeze, which felt especially good in the shade.

The Pratt Valley was left out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill in 1976 because of the possibility of timber harvest in the valley. The valley had been logged as recently as 90 years ago, but today it has greater value for its trout and other wildlife habitat and its importance as a carbon sink. It was inspiring to see so much of the wild area that is Alpine Lakes that is already protected, and to see the rich Pratt Valley from a different angle.

View a proposal map for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness additions or find what you can do to help.

Terry Fernsler is the Executive Director of Washington Wilderness Coalition.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Staff Thoughts: A Step Back on Roadless Protections

Posted by Michael Lanthier

Last Week, the Juneau Empire reported that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had approved a timber sale within a roadless area of the Tongass National Forest. It is the first such sale since he announced in May a temporary ruling that would require all new projects in roadless forest to be approved by him personally.

The stated reason Vilsack gave for the sale, which includes at least 2 miles of roads to be built into the ancient old-growth forest, was to help provide needed jobs. But conversationalists responded that the sale does nothing to ensure a stable economy for the local communities and will end up costing tax payers more money, as the Forest Service already has a $10 billion dollar backlog on maintaining its existing network of nearly 400,000 miles of roads.

Conversationalist responds in an Environmental News Service article:

"The day when this kind of timber sale made sense is long gone," said Carol Cairnes, president of the board of the Ketchikan-based Tongass Conservation Society. "Cutting these trees will not even bring in half the money the Forest Service will spend building a road to get to the trees.

"The rest of Thorne Arm [a roadless area in the Tongass] has already been hammered with clearcuts," said Cairnes. “People in Ketchikan use this last pristine area for fishing, hiking, and family outings. The trees have more value standing than they do cut."

However the article expresses the larger concern:

“President Barack Obama's appointees in the U.S. Department of Agriculture are ‘dangerously close’ to violating the President' pledge to uphold and defend the 2001 Roadless Rule - a pledge he made both as a candidate and since he took office…. Said [Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo], ‘there are several other roadless rule timber sales in the pipeline and the administration has not provided any assurance that they will not grant those timber sales’."

Through eight years of the previous administration, which made a concerted effort to end the protections of the 2001 Roadless Rule, only 7 miles of roads were built into roadless national forests. Though President Obama promised to protect roadless forests, within 6 months of being in office already 2 miles of roads in pristine roadless areas has been approved.

Permanent protections are needed. Roadless forests secure clean water and countless recreational opportunities which provide a sustainable economic boost to local communities.

Encourage Senator Cantwell, a leader on Roadless, to push Obama to up hold the 2001 Roadless Rule; Write a Letter. Or write your representative and senators to support legislation protecting roadless areas, on which Washington’s Rep Jay Inslee and Sen Cantwell have been leaders. Find out more what Washington Wilderness is doing to protect the 2 million acres of roadless national forests in Washington State.

See a video by the Natural Resources Defense Council on clear cutting’s effects on the once ancient, roadless forest land in the Tongass:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Staff Thoughts: The Spaces In-between

Posted by Drew Collins

Up until a few years ago, living in Washington did not make much of a difference for me. I guess the weather is cloudier here, but I’m used to it and do not know much else – I’ve lived in the Seattle area all my life. With the introduction of hiking trails and thus wilderness into my perspective, I see where I live as so much more, and I’m so glad to be here.

As a kid, when I’d look on a map, I’d see the long twisting, barren stretches of roadway and know that those were the ways to get through the mountains. You’d drive up a valley surrounded by high ridges and peaks and then go down. But as I learned while hiking, some of the most scenic areas in our state are the places in-between the markings on a map. Those gaps are huge, and their value is immeasurable.

In the last few years, hiking and backpacking has evolved to my favorite hobby. Exploring those places in-between the quick, fast-paced, auto access of mountain passes is exciting, breathtaking and calming. I’m seeing these huge expanses of land through my own eyes, and filling in the map with my own experiences.

I think a lot of young people today do not realize how much wild land there is out there, and few ever get to access it, much less get a half mile away from a car. Designating this wild land as wilderness is important to protect these areas because generations to come will realize the value and experience these spaces which we mark today as valuable assets, are close to our hearts.

Drew joined WWC in July of 2009 to provide telephone outreach to its members. He is a student at the University of Washington planning to double major in Community, Environment, and Planning (CEP) and Environmental Studies. Drew hopes to learn more about wilderness protection and environmental policy in Washington State. He has lived in the Seattle area all of his life, and enjoys being outside hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing with friends.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In The News: Seattle Times Guest Opinion Editorial

Posted by Michael Lanthier

July 14, 2009, Seattle Times Guest Op-Ed, by Jim Whittaker, Make roadless forest area rule permanent:

Growing up in Seattle, with Mount Rainier, the Olympics and the Cascades beckoning, I developed a passion for the natural world and climbing. Whether in the damp, clean air of an ancient forest or on a snowy summit, the beauty and richness of the wild places within Washington are an inspiration and comfort to millions of Washington residents a year.

In order to preserve and protect much of our remaining natural heritage, the federal Roadless Area Conservation Rule was created in 2001, setting aside nearly 60 million acres of our national forests from destructive road building, which can do even more damage than clear-cutting.

The 2 million acres of roadless forests here in Washington state are a critical part of the quality of life we have come to expect. Roadless forests provide much of our clean water and safe drinking water, besides protecting fish and wildlife.

Along the east side of the Olympic National Forest, near Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and my now hometown of Port Townsend, roadless forests make available the chance for adventure by hiking, camping, kayaking, bicycling, climbing, hunting and fishing, backcountry skiing, wildlife viewing and much more. You can traverse through old-growth forests and climb Mount Washington for spectacular views of Seattle and the Cascade Peaks. You can mountain bike through the Dungeness River Valley or hike one of the many trails — from trekking along the ledges of Dirt Face Ridge to taking kid-friendly trips to Murhut Falls or Lena Lake.

"No Child Left Inside!" should be the rallying cry we live by. Here in Port Townsend, we are lucky to have the Northwest Maritime Center, which gets kids out on the water. But children in the entire state are afforded year-round opportunities in roadless areas for outdoor adventure and discovery.

Washington's wild forests are also a significant resource to our local economy. They inspire homegrown companies like REI, Eddie Bauer and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear. Active outdoor recreation supports more than 100,000 jobs in Washington and contributes more than $11 billion dollars to our state's economy.

Severely undercut by the Bush administration's concentrated efforts to weaken this popular rule, our roadless forests are in danger. As a U.S. senator and as a candidate for the White House, President Obama was up-front about his support for the Roadless Rule. The recent one-year moratorium on road building by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a welcome reprieve, but now we need further action.

As our towns and cities continue to grow, it is more critical than ever to have safeguards in place in order to maintain our wildlife habitats. And for humans, they offer the opportunity for adventure, as well as for peace and solitude.

The president must act now to ensure the long-term protection of the public's roadless forestlands by reinstating the Roadless Rule. Our congressional leaders must join Sen. Maria Cantwell, Congressman Jay Inslee and others in their efforts to enact legislation to protect these valuable wild places. Preserving roadless forests ensures the passing of a natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.

Jim Whittaker was the first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963 and was the first full-time employee of REI, becoming the CEO from 1971-1979. Author of "A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond," he resides in Port Townsend.

Click here to learn more about Washington's roadless areas and the value of roadless forest.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Conservation Voice: Ken Gersten

posted by Amber Benson

Rambling Thoughts on Wilderness

Twenty five years may seem like a long time. But here in Washington people like you and me have been working to protect wild lands since the early 1900s. Still there is a lot to celebrate with the passage of the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act.

Work on the 1984 Washington State Wilderness Act started in 1976 as soon as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Act passed. Or maybe each bit of protection was just a step along a continuing road to a goal that keeps changing--. We saw wildlands protection with the creation of Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks. The Wilderness Act of 1964 gave us additional acreage and another tool to preserve wilderness. It was followed by North Cascades National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

But the 1984 bill was a little different. Past Previous efforts, both in Washington and elsewhere, were focused on a single area or localized group of areas. During the late 1970s the US Forest Service conducted a nationwide inventory of roadless areas, resulting in a set of Wilderness recommendations that was totally inadequate. But the mood in Congress was to try to end the debate by passing state-wide wilderness bills.

Many of us knew then and history has shown that the debate did not end then. And it still is has not ended. But the work in the early 1980s was special. It was a state-wide grassroots organizing effort composed of lots of local efforts. I don’t know if this is correct, but former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal is credited with saying that “all politics is local.” Here in Washington, in terms of wilderness, that means that whichever Congressional Representatives has an area in his or her district have significant influence over whether what will it can be be designated as Wilderness in their districts. That means local organizing is needed, to convince Representatives to propose designations, which is what we did. So if you were part of the local effort to protect the Mt Baker area or the Boulder River or the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth or the Clearwater or any of the other areas in the Act, you deserve a special thank you today. If you were in Seattle or some other part of the state your work was still essential. Senator’s, who are as important as House Members, represent the entire state, and our Senators in 1984 played important roles in passing the 1984 Act.

So where does that leave us today? We are back to protecting areas one at a time. The Wild Sky Act was just the first and I look forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary of it’s passage. But we have many more areas to protect and a very different political environment.

This week, Al Franken was declared the winner of the Minnesota Senate race, giving the Democrats their first filibuster-proof majority in recent memory. Progressive Democrats also control the House of Representative and we have an environmentalist in the White House. So it should be easy to get areas protected, right?

Wrong. With the economy, health care and war at the top of the agenda, a Supreme Court vacancy and the Bush agenda to undo, Congress and the President have a very full plate. We also must remember how technology has changed the process. We used to communicate with Members of Congress by mail. We would get lots of folks to write letters and the Member’s staff would read them and track the mood of the folks back home. As phone calls got cheaper we flooded them with calls. But now they get flooded with everything including email, calls, tweets, etc. And we are far from the only interest group. So we need to work harder and better to get our agenda at the top of their agenda. How do we do that? The same way as always, --we organize. Nothing has changed but the tools.

When I helped found the WWC 30 years ago, my mantra was “organizing is the key to success.” I still believe it that is true. But what is organizing? I have been told that Cesar Chavez, the leader of the Farm Workers organizing efforts would say, “you talk to one person, then another person, then another person.” And that is what we need to do. And each person we talk to needs to be asked to communicate with their elected officials and help get others to do the same.

If we do enough talking we will get wilderness protection to the top of the agenda, just as we did with the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, the North Cascades National Park Act, and, 25 years ago, with the Washington Wilderness Act. So let’s celebrate, renew our energy and go back for more.

-Ken Gersten
Co-founder, Washington Wilderness Coalition

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Conservation Voice: Tim McNulty

Posted by Amber Benson

From Scruffy Beginnings to an Enduring Voice for the Wild (WWC at 30)

In the late 1970s the Wilderness movement in Washington was a scatter of feisty tribes huddled around campfires in rainy woods and bristling sagebrush. We peppered our forest service offices with letters seeking protection for our favorite Wilderness areas. We held rallies, lead hikes, challenged timber sales, and harangued small-town reporters to write stories about the importance of wilderness.

To be sure, venerable groups like the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, the Mountaineers, and Friends of the Earth had offices in Seattle and contacts in Washington City. But from rural outposts where activists watched our home forests being clearcut at a staggering pace, Seattle seemed a long way off. And as for Washington City, it might well have been on another planet.

We had been through the frustrations of trying to influence forest service district plans in the 1970s. Hope sprung anew when Jimmy Carter was elected president. The forest service's RARE II initiative (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) brought new hope. But we had underestimated the timber industry's political reach, and the final recommendations were a disappointment. When state-wide wilderness advocates gathered at a grange hall in Ellensburg in 1979, Wilderness protection for our threatened wildlands seemed a long ways off.

I remember a meeting with the late Karen Fant, one of the most inspiring wilderness advocates in the state and an indomitable spirit. Karen proposed forming a statewide coalition to unite grass-roots wilderness groups, provide an organization and staff, and move our wilderness campaigns ahead as a united federation. Ken Gersten, a visionary young activist from Seattle had signed on with Karen, and I agreed to be a part of the organization's founding board of directors. In the fall of 1979, WWC was born.

We were, in retrospect, a rather scruffy lot, and not terribly well-heeled. A financial statement in my files from our first board meeting lists five member groups. WWC's net worth at the time (December, 1979) was $97.71. But we lacked in funds and political acumen we made up for in passion. Karen and Ken proved to be excellent field organizers, and by the early 1980s the Washington Wilderness Coalition had active grass-roots member groups across the state. This organization proved invaluable in the campaign leading up to the passage of the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act. Local groups lined up business, civic group, and political support in every congressional district in the state. If Tip O'Neil was accurate ("All politics is local,") then WWC's grass-roots organizing is responsible for many of the far-flung victories in the '84 legislation.

Which is not to say we finished the job -- or even came close to it. Behind the formal celebrations we suffered the wounds of areas not included in the bill. Lena Lake, the South Fork Skokomish and South Quinault Ridge were particularly painful omissions on the Olympic forest. Neglect of the Kettle Range in the Columbia highlands was a statewide tragedy.

The odds have been stacked against us multiple times over the past quarter century. But the wilderness movement in Washington state has never been stronger. With the winds of Wild Sky at out backs, citizens are once more working for new Wilderness areas across the state. A new generation of activists have joined the old hands -- just as I grew in the shadow of giants like Polly Dyer, Pat Goldsworthy, Phil Zalesky, and Karen Fant. The legacy of Wilderness will always inspire souls who will speak out in its defense. And after 30 years, WWC will be part of the wildlands victories in Washington that are still come.

Tim McNulty, one of the original directors of Washington Wilderness Coalition, is a poet, nature writer and conservationist who has long been active in Northwest literary and environmental communities.

Tim has served 35 years on the board of trustees of the Olympic Park Associates, and is also working currently with the Olympic Watershed Coalition on wildlands and river protection in the Olympic Mountains. He lives with his family in the foothills of Washington's Olympic Mountains.