A wide-angled wilderness

 

WASHINGTON

Washington state could soon gain a unique new wilderness area - its first in almost 15 years. Unlike most of Washington's 4 million acres of federally protected wilderness, the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness northeast of Seattle would encompass more than just high alpine crags of rock and ice - it would also include often-ignored lush lowland forests and biodiverse river valleys. Sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, both Washington Democrats, the proposed wilderness area would protect over 100,000 acres of largely roadless old-growth hemlock, cedar and fir forests, the headwaters of the North Fork of the Skykomish River, and the high, rugged Sky Peaks.

"The Puget Sound region is getting more crowded and developed," says Todd Webster, a spokesman for Murray. "Senator Murray wanted to preserve wild space for the future. It's about time."

Wilderness advocates suggest the plan could be a model for future wilderness designations, because drafters negotiated the area's boundary to allow snowmobile use on some roads, float-plane landings on Lake Isabel, and large-group hikes on Cady Ridge. The wilderness area would come right down to the backyards of loggers, business owners, and residents in the small town of Index, where most recognize the potential for new tourism-based opportunities. "If we're gonna practice good environmental stewardship," says Kem Hunter, the mayor of Index, "this is the way to do it."

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