Lawmaker says Wild Sky too big

Debate on the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness area took a jarring political turn Tuesday when the congressman who has blocked legislative action for months said thousands of acres slated for federal protection must be removed.

U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, wants roughly 16,000 acres of the 106,000-acre proposal excised because, he insisted, the land contains “nonwilderness characteristics” such as roads, bridges and areas previously logged.

“I cannot, in good conscience, move a bill that ignores this fact,” Pombo wrote in a letter to Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash. “I am, however, willing to entertain ideas for other forms of protection for these lands.”

Pombo’s comments offer an intriguing backdrop to a Thursday morning congressional hearing on the Wild Sky legislation, which was written by Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. Larsen introduced the bill early in 2003.

Pombo initially denied Larsen’s request for a hearing, but relented after a July 8 meeting with Nethercutt to review an alternative 103,661-acre wilderness area put forth collectively by Nethercutt, Larsen and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Larsen was not deterred by Pombo’s stance.

“Finally, there’s an opportunity to tell the story of how Wild Sky will bring value to the nation’s network of wilderness areas,” Larsen said. “If there are two words that describe this proposal, they are inclusiveness and compromise.”

He argued that his bill offers lasting protection for land in the Skykomish and Beckler river areas northeast of Index, while recognizing the commercial and recreational needs of residents.

He said he’ll recount three years of effort, including winning support from the House Resources Committee in 2002, when Pombo was not chairman. The House of Representatives, however, did not act on it that year.

Following Larsen on Thursday will be Mark Rey, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment. Last year, he told a U.S. Senate committee that President Bush would support a Wild Sky Wilderness with or without the 16,000 acres. The Senate went on to pass a bill written by Murray.

The bulk of Thursday’s hearing will review the testimony of two supporters and four opponents.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Mike Town of Friends of the Wild Sky will testify for the bill. Town said he will try “to bring the message that there’s a lot of people locally and across the state who want the area preserved.”

Opponents include Snohomish County Councilman Jeff Sax; Snohomish County Farm Bureau member Ed Husmann of Sultan; Gene Chase of Arlington, a logger; and Chris Fadden, vice president of the Washington State Snowmobile Association. That group had been neutral following intense negotiations with Larsen, but recently came out against the bill.

Husmann also testified before senators last year.

“It’ll be very much the same,” he said. “We’ve got lots of wilderness. Why do we need more?”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

Wild Sky hearing

The House Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness at 8 a.m. PDT Thursday.

For information or to listen to the hearing live, go online to http://resources committee.house.gov.

What: A hearing on proposed Wild Sky Wilderness

Who: The Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee of the House of Representatives

Rep. Rick Larsen and Snohomish County Councilman Jeff Sax, a Wild Sky opponent, are expected to testify Thursday. A complete witness list is being prepared.

When: 8 a.m. Thursday.

For information and to listen to the hearing live, go online to:

http://resourcescommittee.house.gov

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