By Sharon Wootton, Columnist
The Wild Sky Wilderness won’t be the last protected wilderness in the state if wilderness advocates are as successful as they were with the Wild Sky, and as patient with the process.
There are three other wilderness-related proposals in various stages of the political process:
Alpine Lake Wilderness additions and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act: This would preserve 22,000 acres of beautiful landscapes left out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness or add land from the Middle Fork and the Pratt River drainages. The proposal has been introduced in Congress.
Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: The proposal would protect 126,000 acres of the national forest. This legislation has just been introduced.
Cascades Wild: A proposal is being developed that would protect 300,000 acres in the high country and the lowlands and hundreds of miles of rivers.
Legislation for the first two areas was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Dave Reichert and Rep. Norm Dicks.
An excellent resource for information on wilderness proposals is Washington Wild’s website, www.wawild.org.
“I’m not a gambling man,” said Jonathan Guzzo, advocacy director of the Washington Trails Association. “But the race belongs to the tenacious when it comes to wilderness. It’s a long, long fight to get a wilderness designated. People do care; people support it, some for 50 years or more. And they’re joined by lots of new advocates.
“Designating new wilderness areas is inevitable in this state. It’s going to happen,” he said.
A wilderness designation can be applied only to public land managed at a federal level. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness, for instance, was carved out of national forests.
While most of the acreage is untouched by human structures or roads, a wilderness can have old roads or structures that are not maintained, allowing the natural landscape to eventually take over.
A wilderness area comes with restrictions, including no motorized or mechanical travel; horses and goats packing in supplies are approved; hikers are encouraged.
In some cases, a degree of visitor control is used.
“In many wilderness areas, there are no more than 12 beating hearts in one party,” Guzzo said, including stock in that number.
WTA’s role is working with wilderness advocates and being supportive of wilderness designations.
“We’re not spearheading the movement,” Guzzo said.
How many wildernesses are enough? While there is no simple answer, there is a philosophy for adding to the state’s 4.5 million wilderness acres.
“There may be enough when some of the key, most beautiful and most productive areas (habitat and clean water) are preserved for the public. That includes lowland country now not designated as wilderness, for early season hiking or those areas really rich in habitat,” Guzzo said.
In the early years of wilderness designation, the areas usually were high elevation, mostly rock, some blue lakes and a little green, areas that extractive industries generally weren’t interested in.
“Now wilderness advocates are going back to protect other important places, ecosystems, rivers that provide clean water, for instance,” Guzzo said.
“In a wilderness, hikers encounter natural worlds, relatively untouched. You might see a signpost on a trail, but the rest is natural. It’s a direct experience of the natural landscape,” Guzzo said.
In addition to quiet recreation, and wildlife and ecosystem protection, the proposals include some lowland areas that are critical resources for clean waters that flow toward Puget Sound.
If you are a betting reader, don’t bet against the wilderness proposals.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.