Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wild Sky: Wasted Wilderness Capital?
Last week President Bush signed into law a bill that among other things created Washington's first wilderness area in 20 years. Bravo. But as much as the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is for the most part something to celebrate-especially when you consider that this administration doesn't exactly have a stellar record when it comes to land preservation-Wild Sky may not exactly be such a great thing after all to be cheering.

Let me explain. I am a huge proponent of wilderness. I don't care what numbers you throw at me- we don't nearly have enough protected wilderness in this country- especially so when you consider that many of our wilderness areas are in Alaska. In the Lower 48, shopping centers, housing tracts, and clear cuts far out number wildernesses-even in the supposed wild, wild west.

What bothers me about the Wild Sky creation is that the area now protected was really never under any great threat- motorized, development or other. Most of the new area is rock and rugged ridge. Yes, there are some large tracts of old-growth and that is a good thing to now have it protected. But a lot of this new wilderness simply wasn't under threat of development or extraction. There are very few trails into it, and access is difficult at best.

So why was this not the best idea to include in wilderness? Because there are far better tracts of land within the state that are under very real threats of being ravaged by motorized use and extractive industries. The Dark Divide and the Kettle Crest are two and perhaps the two most important unprotected large tracts of land in Washington deserving of wilderness protection. Both were left out of the 1984 omnibus Washington Wilderness Bill (and by a democrat mind you (Tom Foley)-not a republican) and both represent incredible wild lands with good access and trails for hikers and equestrians. The Kettle Crest represents the largest undeveloped roadless area in eastern Washington while the Dark Divide is the largest roadless area in heavily logged South Cascades.

Both of these areas will require quite a legislative fight to protect and perhaps that is why many a conservation and environmental organization went for the easy road and chose instead to protect Wild Sky. Unfortunately due to some obstructionists Republicans, chief among them Richard Pombo of California (arrivaderci Pombo), Wild Sky's passage was anything but easy. It involved a protracted four year battle and I believe it used up a lot of our wilderness capital. We need that harder-to-come-by capital for Kettle Crest and Dark Divide.

Like President Bush's Axis of Evil, he chose the perceived easy target, Iraq to begin his campaign. But Iran under Holocaust fan Ahmadinejad is far more of a threat to our national security than Insane Hussein ever was. Yet we used up an awful lot of our "fighting terrorist capital" on taking Saddam out and we are now in a real mess. I hope that our wilderness protection efforts don't end up going down a similar path (No offense to the men and women who lost their lives in Iraq-just trying to make a political point here). I hope we haven't spent our limited wilderness capital on fighting for Wild Sky. So while I support Wild Sky and am for the most part content to see it finally signed into law, I'd much rather be celebrating a Kettle Crest Wilderness right now. Wild Sky would have been just fine in that process.
(photo-Scorpion Mountain in new Wild Sky Wilderness)

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