WA's Stake in National Wilderness Month
SEATTLE - September is National Wilderness Month, and for Washington, the presidential proclamation is a celebration of the 4.4 million acres that make it the Evergreen State. There's a push to increase that total, with an addition to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area that has already passed in the U.S. House and is pending in the Senate.
Tom Uniack, conservation director with the Washington Wilderness Coalition, says objections from a single senator slow most individual wilderness bills in the Senate, even though the Alpine Lakes legislation has already proven that the two major political parties can reach agreement.
"The Alpine Lakes bill is a really good example of that: Republican Congressman Dave Reichert and Democratic Senator Patty Murray are the sponsors of that bill. Here in Washington state, wilderness has always been bipartisan, and we think that suits it very well to get through Congress."
Uniack says the lone senator's objection is that the government can't afford to maintain more federal land.
Mike Matz, executive director of the Pew Campaign for America's Wilderness, says people around the country have proposed at least two million acres of new federally protected wilderness, and all are waiting for Congress to act on it. He hopes National Wilderness Month revives the discussion.
"These are all places that people have really worked from the ground up, they support locally. So, it'd be great to see this accomplished, and I think this is a good way to draw attention to that."
Conservation and sportsman's groups hope a number of wilderness bills can be combined into omnibus legislation, which has a better chance of passing because it requires fewer votes. That's how similar bills have gotten through Congress in the last two sessions.
National Wilderness Month began last week with the 46th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and ends with Wilderness Week activities nationwide.