Wild Sky: Let’s try a constructive approach

Fresh from unanimous approval by the Republican-controlled Senate, the widely supported Wild Sky Wilderness act is back in the House – for the third time.

Having failed to clear that hurdle twice before, and with the cast of characters there largely unchanged, supporters of a 106,000-acre wilderness area north of Index and Skykomish can be excused for not getting their hopes too high.

The chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) has yet to allow the bill to come to a vote. His support, obviously, is the key to making Wild Sky a reality. His primary objection is a principled one: Portions of the proposed area were once logged or mined, and as such don’t qualify as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Many, including the late Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Everett, who helped write the original Wilderness Act, have repudiated this “purity argument.” The Senate, in approving Wild Sky three times, has rejected it. Even the Bush administration has endorsed Wild Sky.

In this case, however, it is Pombo who must be swayed if the bill is to pass this Congress. Supporters should work to do so constructively, resisting the angry rhetoric that surfaced at times last year.

We encourage the chairman to come see Wild Sky for himself, from ground level and from the air. We can think of two very suitable tour guides: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, who is sponsoring Wild Sky in the House; and Republican Dan Evans, the former three-term governor and U.S. senator who has long championed the preservation of our state’s wild, scenic areas.

It’s one thing to stand by a “purity” principle having seen only maps of the area, where lines divide lands that have been untouched by man from those that were logged or mined generations ago. It’s quite another to fly over the area and realize that such lines don’t exist in nature.

This time around, Larsen and other House supporters have more than a year to work on the issue, allowing for plenty of constructive discussion. That should include two new GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation, Cathy McMorris – who also serves on the Resources Committee – and Dave Reichert, whose support of Wild Sky would be welcome.

In a guest commentary last year in The Herald, Evans wrote of the importance of preserving Washington’s heritage of wilderness: “Foremost, it is our duty to preserve our state’s wilderness for the Washingtonians of the future. They will expect us to do no less.”

And so the work to preserve the Wild Sky Wilderness must continue.

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