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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

28th Anniversary of the Washington Wilderness Act!

Pasayten Wilderness - Photo by Andy Porter
Today marks the 28th anniversary of the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984, which designated nearly a million acres of new wilderness on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands across Washington State. Almost  three decades later, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those in our state Congressional Delegation who championed this legislation, including former Senators Henry M. Jackson, Daniel J. Evans, and Slade Gorton as well as former Representatives Al Swift and Mike Lowry. 

The historic legislation established 19 new wilderness areas around the state including the Buckhorn, Wonder Mountain, The Brothers, Mt Skokomish, and Colonel Bob Wildernesses within the misty slopes of the Olympic National Forest.  In the North Cascades, the Act added the Mt Baker, Noisy Diobsud, Henry M Jackson, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, and Boulder River Wildernesses. Amidst the iconic volcanoes of the Gifford Pinchot and Wenatchee National Forests in southwest Washington, the law added Clearwater, Tatoosh, Glacier View, Trapper Creek, Norse Peak, William O. Douglas, and Indian Heaven Wildernesses. In Northeast Washington, the 41,000-acre Salmo Priest Wilderness was created, the first and only designation on the Colville National Forest. The lone BLM Wilderness was Juniper Dunes in eastern Washington.  Additionally, the legislation added significant acreage to the already existing Glacier Peak, Mt. Adams, and Pasayten Wilderness areas. 


Washington Wild (formerly known as the Washington Wilderness Coalition) played a crucial role in ensuring the passage of the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984, permanently protecting these outstanding areas.  Our organization was founded in 1979 in part to organize across Washington State from Spokane to Vancouver and from Yakima to Bellingham around an anticipated opportunity for a statewide wilderness bill. In 1984, after years of hard work and perseverance, that goal was realized. 


The 1984 bill continued a strong legacy of Wilderness in Washington Sate that began with the initial designations in the 1964 Wilderness Act and continued in 1976 with the designation of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Today, Washington State is ranked 5th in the nation for the amount of acreage of federally designated Wilderness. Washington currently boosts 31 Wilderness units, totaling 4.4 million acres, and we are still striving to protect wild lands throughout Washington State through advocacy, education, and civic engagement. 


While 1984 was the most significant year for Wilderness expansion in Washington State, four years later marked another important year for Wilderness expansion in our state. The Washington Parks Wilderness Act of 1988, designated significant sections of Mt. Rainer, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks as designated Wilderness. 


After 1988, wilderness designation in Washington State slowed as conservationists battled unsustainable logging threats on our national forests.  However, as the century turned, wilderness advocates and Washington Wild refocused on “the next generation” of wilderness designations for Washington State.


And we have been busy!

 
In 2002, Washington Wild helped develop and advocate for a new wilderness, located in the Central Cascades. The legislation was introduced by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Rick Larsen. In 2008, The Wild Sky Wilderness became law, designating more than 106,000 acres of wilderness, the first designation on Washington national forest land in nearly 25 years. 


In 2007, Congressman Dave Reichert proposed to designate additional Wilderness to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. Later, Senator Murray joined Reichert and expanded the bill to designate the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as Wild and Scenic. Washington Wild helped lead the charge to get Washingtonians on board with this proposal. Through outreach and civic engagement, Washington Wild and our allies built tremendous support for Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion.  If passed, this legislation will protect 22,000 acres of rare low elevation forest land in the Middle Fork and South Fork Snoqualmie River Valleys. These low elevation areas include old growth forests, key fisheries habitat and multi-season recreational opportunities, which are under-represented in the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness and other wilderness areas statewide. 

View from Dirty Face Ridge - Photo by Ben Gruel

In 2009, Washington Wild worked as a founding member of the Wild Olympics Campaign to designate new wilderness and wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. Just last week, Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks introduced legislation that would permanently protect 126,000 acres and 19 Wild and Scenic Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. These lands include many low elevation forests and old growth stands. If passed, this legislation would create the first wilderness areas in the Olympic National Forest since the passage of the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984. 

It would be quite fitting that during the 28th anniversary of this legislation, the Peninsula could see its Wilderness areas expanded. 

To learn more about the important work that Washington Wild has been doing since the passage of the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act, please visit our website, www.wawild.org.

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