It has been a long and winding journey down the road against the Wild Sky Wilderness, a proposal for approximately 106,000 acres of public land within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near Index, Washington. Unfortunately it appears now that this journey may soon come to an end.
The other day, I was having a conversation with Brian Hawthorne, the Public Lands Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition, and Craig Osterman, the Executive Director of the Treasure State Alliance. Brian was interested in knowing where the motorized organizations in Washington State currently stood regarding Wild Sky. Due to the leadership changes that occurred in the 110th Congress, Wild Sky would now have a much better chance of being approved. I promised to look into it and also told him that I would provide him with some of the history behind Wild Sky. I reiterated that the Snowmobile Alliance of Western States is still vehemently opposed to Wild Sky. Our organization was opposed to this proposal even before we were officially formed in August 2004. Of course, since SAWS is opposed to ALL new wilderness proposals, this wasnÔÇÖt any big surprise to Brian. The history laid out below is just from my involvement and perspective.
As promised I contacted the other major pro-motorized organizations in this state to see where they currently stood on this issue. I heard back from the Northwest Motorcycle Association, the Pacific Northwest 4-Wheel Drive Association, and the Washington Off Highway Vehicle Association. NWA and PNW 4WDA said their organizations were still opposed to Wild Sky as they have been in the past. WOHVA stated that their ÔÇ£wilderness position in general is absolutely no more Wilderness, periodÔÇØ. I did not receive a response from any of the other Washington State pro-motorized organizations that I contacted, so I can not report their current positions and I will not make any statements or assumptions as to their current or past positions on this issue.
Reflecting back on when I first became aware of Wild Sky being proposed, I can still recall the day – Thursday, September 6, 2001. I left work early to attend a Wild Sky public meeting at Monroe High School that was sponsored by Senator Patty MurrayÔÇÖs Office. I had just recently heard about this proposal and I wanted to give her staff an ear full of my opinions on their wilderness plan. From the very get go, Patty MurrayÔÇÖs office had slick answers with false promises, which allowed them to lure in many in support of her proposal.
I spent the next several months trying to convince my representative from the 8th congressional district, Jennifer Dunn, along with many others, to oppose the Wild Sky Bill that had been introduced in the House by Rep. Rick Larsen. Yet on June 7, 2002, the Seattle Times reported that Rep. Jennifer Dunn co-sponsored the Wild Sky bill. Her support for this bill was a big blow to motorized recreationists in Washington State. We had felt that without her opposition to this bill, due to the fact that a portion of this proposed wilderness was located within her district boundary, there was a good chance that this bill would become law.
As I continued to investigate this proposal, on January 4, 2003, I discovered a United States Forest Service document dated July 30, 2002, with a statement from Abigail Kimbell. At the time, Ms. Kimbell┬á was the Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest System (you may recall that she is now the Chief Forester), where she stated in part that ÔÇ£The Department has significant concerns with approximately 36,000 acres of the 106,000 acres proposed for wilderness designation. These acres would not be considered suitable for wilderness designation under the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act or under existing Forest Service regulations and planning directionÔÇØ. She also stated ÔÇ£The lands that would help meet the goals of the Wilderness Act, approximately 70-75,000 acresÔÇª.ÔÇØ To sum up her report, she stated that only 70-75,000 acres of the proposed 106,000 acre wilderness meet the definition as spelled out in the 1964 Wilderness Act.
On Saturday June 28, 2003, several hundred pro-access individuals held a ÔÇ£Just say NO to Wild SkyÔÇØ rally in Index, Washington, right across the street from the pro-Wild Sky rally. There were many concerned individuals, including motorcyclists, 4-wheelers, snowmobilers, and farmers, that attended the protest rally that day.
Sometime late in 2003, I heard about another Wild Sky report. This time by Mark Rey, Under Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, which was dated June 4, 2003, where he repeats much of the same concerns stated by Abigail Kimbell that I reference above. Secretary Rey also stated that ÔÇ£The lands that we believe are appropriate for designation under the Wilderness Act, approximately 90,000 acresÔÇª.ÔÇØ What did he say? It appears that somehow, in about one yearÔÇÖs time, 15,000 to 20,000 additional acres within Wild Sky now qualify for wilderness, which did not previously qualify when Ms Kimbell spoke. http://energy.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=775&wit_id=137
Then in July, 2004, a group known as Forest for People held a letter writing campaign to encourage people to write letters to House Resources Committee Chair, Richard Pombo, requesting that he oppose and block the Wild Sky bill. The bill would soon be up for a hearing in his committee. I sent out our first SAWS alert on this letter writing campaign (approximately a month before we officially launched SAWS). This letter writing campaign was successful, and the Wild Sky bill was blocked by Mr. Pombo.
In March, 2005, SAWS sent out our second alert regarding Wild Sky, requesting that our members write their representatives in Congress and requesting that they oppose Wild Sky. Rep. Dave Reichert had just recently been elected to replace retiring Rep. Jennifer Dunn. We had hoped that Rep. Dave Reichert would not support this bill, but on July 28, 2005, Mr. Reichert became a co-sponsor in support of the Wild Sky bill just as Ms. Dunn had previously done. This put another nail in the coffin for those of us that wanted this area to remain open to motorized use.
Thankfully, due to Richard Pombo being the Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Wild Sky and several other wilderness bills, would never make it out of his committee for a full house vote during the 109th Congress (FY 2005 ÔÇô 2006). This angered the extreme environmental organizations to no end. In the fall of 2006, Mr. Pombo, along with several other representatives supportive of snowmobile access issues were targeted by several of these extreme green organizations, including the Defenders of Wildlife (DOW). Many of these targeted representatives, including Mr. Pombo, lost their bid for re-election to the 110th Congress. DOW not only supports Wild Sky, but DOW has also opposed snowmobile access in Yellowstone National Park. They were also a plaintiff in the recent lawsuit to ban snowmobiles from approximately 300,000 acres around Priest Lake, Idaho, centered on the Caribou recovery issue.
Shortly after the elections the first week of November, 2006, I wrote an editorial regarding the leadership changes in the U.S. House and Senate, and how these changes could affect bills that are negative to snowmobile access to our public lands. I stated in my SAWS editorial, ÔÇ£It is my opinion that the Wild Sky Wilderness bill WILL be voted into law in the 110th Congress without Mr. Pombo as the gatekeeper in this committeeÔÇØ.
On February 7, 2007, Rep. Rick Larsen once again introduced a Wild Sky bill (HR886) in the House with the full support of all Washington State representatives from the western side of the state. Senator Patty Murray also submitted her Wild Sky bill (S 520) the very same day. The new Chairman of PomboÔÇÖs former Committee, Nick Rahall, stated “Wild Sky is the top wilderness bill priority for the committee“. And sure to his word, on March 7, 2007, the Wild Sky bill was ordered out of this committee favorably to the House by voice vote. What this means is that sometime during this session, the full House will vote on Wild Sky and most likely it will be approved. The Senate will in turn vote on their Wild Sky bill, where it should easily pass. The Senate has already approved three previous Wild Sky bills over the past several years. Then my friends, all that is left is for President Bush to sign the final bill and Wild Sky becomes law; the first new designated wilderness in Washington State since 1984. Not only will this area be designated as wilderness, but Wild Sky will still contain many miles of inventoried roads, and thousands of acres of land, which do not meet the definition of wilderness as defined in the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Of course there were many other individuals and organizations involved in the fight for or against the Wild Sky Wilderness that I did not mention above for various reasons, but mainly due to time and space considerations. I would like to extend a heart-felt thank you to ALL of those that have been involved in opposing the Wild Sky wilderness throughout the years.
I do believe unfortunately that the Wild Sky bill will be signed into law this year and I felt it was important to reflect on some of the history behind this battle. I certainly hope I am wrong, but I am not very optimistic that it wonÔÇÖt become law. I am sure that SAWS will receive some emails over the next few months as Wild Sky moves forward in Congress with some individuals asking SAWS ÔÇ£what are you doing to stop Wild Sky from becoming a reality?ÔÇØ My answer will be that I donÔÇÖt believe that there is anything left we can do to stop it. It may also be time to ask these individuals ÔÇ£where were you these last 5 years?ÔÇØ
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