Get to know the wilderness right here in our state

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, July 25, 2014 2:45pm
  • Life

What do Clearwater, Mount Skokomish, San Juans Islands, Trapper Creek, Wonder Mountain, Colonel Bob and Stephen Mather have in common?

Stumped?

They are part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in Washington state, a collection ranging from the San Juan Islands Wilderness (353 acres) to the Olympic National Wilderness (876,669 acres).

Fifty years ago, President Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act. In part, it reads, “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States …”

It took Congress nine years and 65 rewrites after decades of citizens pushing for protection. The 758 wilderness areas are managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

Miraculously, for 50 years the politicians have voted against amending the act in any significant fashion.

The importance of the Wilderness Act cannot be underestimated. It was the first of its kind in the world, and has been used as a model for other countries.

Several wilderness areas can create a continuous uninterrupted wild area, such as the Glacier Peak Complex of 1.2 million acres, separated only by the North Cascades Highway.

It includes the Wild Sky, Henry M. Jackson, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Glacier Peak and Stephen Mather wildernesses.

At the other end of the size spectrum is the San Juan Islands Wilderness, designated in 1976. Of the 700 islands, reefs, islets and rocks (some unseen at high tides), 83 are in the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge and 80 of those are designated wilderness.

Why protect these tiny peaks when some aren’t even seen at high tide? They provide protection to birds and marine mammals, including auklets, harbor seals, oystercatchers, guillemots, cormorants and puffins.

Most of the wilderness is closed to foot traffic. Small boats are allowed to approach the islands, but using commonsense and binoculars is a better choice.

Olympic Wilderness is the largest in the state at more than 876,000 acres. Add Buckhorn, The Brothers, Mount Skokomish, Wonder Mountain and Colonel Bob wilderness, and the area is simply huge.

Small wildernesses include Trapper Creek (5,970 acres), Juniper Dunes (7,140 acres), Glacier View (3,123 acres) and Washington Islands (485 acres).

In Washington Islands, one island is less than 1 acre; the largest is 36 acres.

Glacier View Wilderness is 3,123 acres and was designated in 1984. It is against the western border of Mount Rainier National Park and within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest. It has terrific views.

Note: Various sources may list different acreage for a wilderness area due to later additions of acreage. A good source of information is www.wilderness.net.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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