One-sided proposal goes too far

An environmental group from Seattle is proposing changes to land use in Skagit and Whatcom counties via the American Alps Legacy Proposal (AALP). As a lifetime hiker, sportsman and conservationist, I am for protecting wilderness and habitat but feel that this proposal crosses over to a bridge-burnin

g case of protection for protection’s sake and will actually do harm to both visitor numbers and the recreation-based economy of the Highway 20 corridor.

Much of this area is already covered by considerable environmental protections and AALPS will distract from the harder work of protecting areas with little or no protection. Certain provisions in this draft proposal will damage the important alliances between diverse user groups that build coalitions for preservation that benefits all user groups, including wildlife.

Misunderstanding No. 1: AALP purports to increase usership. The report states that “Low visitation to the RLNRA (Ross Lake National Recreation Area) can also be attributed to the limited number of recreational opportunities along Highway 20…”, yet then goes on to actually restrict some of the biggest recreational uses that exist: hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.

I take particular exception to the Ross Lake NRA’s inclusion, since this sportsman’s paradise has been heavily used by all groups and has fared well by most measures. It is not clear exactly which groups that don’t come already will replace these displaced sportsmen. These uses are especially important to the populations living closest, not just those one to two hours away in the Seattle metropolitan area. Snowmobilers are an economically vital user group during the time the highway is closed due to snow.

Misunderstanding No. 2: These areas are currently unprotected. Both the Baker Rainforest and the Cascade River are currently under Late Successional Reserve (LSR) protections, under which nothing older than 80 years can be cut. There is already a considerable amount of protection in place here. The Ross Lake NRA will face a ban on hunting and dogs on trails. It is one of the few places dog lovers can currently experience wilderness with their pets. Given the relative inaccessibility of this area currently, I can see no other benefits to its inclusion.

Misunderstanding No. 3: This would benefit the Highway 20 corridor economy. This protection would not appreciably increase the scenic beauty already present, nor would it change the fact that low usage is more likely due to the dead end nature of a closed Highway 20 for much of the season and there being no major ski resort as a destination.

The current mix of multiple usage is not mutually exclusive with the activities proposed. “Waterfall tours and wildlife watching” are not mutually exclusive with hunting, as anybody who has been to any National Wildlife Refuge can attest. Hunting is much more than a traditional American pastime. It creates more than 700,000 jobs nationwide. New studies now show that annual spending by America’s 14 million hunters amounts to $22.1 billion. My question is what the AALPS proposal would do to make up for this economic loss.

I have great respect for some of the signers. However, the American Alps Legacy Proposal will alienate and exclude current user groups without significantly improving the conservation status or biodiversity of the area. I feel it will hurt the economy of the Highway 20 corridor without replacing those visitors lost. A better path might be to make the improvements noted without excluding entire classes of users.

Victor Garcia teaches biology and environmental science at Anacortes High School, and has worked as a field biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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