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House Passage Of Defense Package Has Conservation, Rec Groups Celebrating

Rick McGuire
Courtesy of Washington Wild
The Pratt River Valley

Washington stands to get a new national park and thousands of acres of wilderness and wild and scenic river areas if the U.S. Senate approves a massive defense package that has passed the House.

The package, which has a handful of public lands bills tacked on to it, appears headed for passage next week. And in a curious twist, the tragic landslide in Oso seems to have opened the door to a bipartisan solution.

“The legislation that we are about to pass includes some really great victories for the state of Washington,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Despite some opposition from Senate Republicans, Murray says she’s confident there is enough bipartisan support for the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act to gain approval next week. It passed the House on Thursday with a vote of 300-119.

The key conservation and recreation proposals in it for Washington state are:

  • Expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area near Seattle by 22,000 acres
  • Designation the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as wild and scenic
  • Designation of the Skagit River tributary Illabot Creek as wild and scenic
  • Redrawing wilderness boundaries to allow rebuilding of Stehekin Road in North Cascades National Park
  • Allowing Public Access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain in the Hanford Reach National Monument 
  • Establishing a Manhattan Project National Historic Monument around Hanford’s B Reactor

“Right now we’re just really excited,” said Tom Uniak, Washington Wild's conservation director, adding that it’s a nice cap to festivities this year around the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Uniak’s group worked for years on the Alpine Lakes expansion.  

“The Alpine Lakes is really the closest mountain valley to the greater Seattle area and it is just a remarkable representation of the quality of life, of why people live, work and play here," Uniak said. 

He says the wild and scenic river areas are equally important, as they prevent hydropower development and protect fish habitat. They are among the strictest protections available. And Uniack says prior concerns about “unnecessary” amendments to the bill when it passed out of committee in July have been resolved.

“And it sort of started because of the Oso landslide,” said Murray, who many credit for leadership on the inclusion of the land use provisions in the defense package.  

Murray says after the Oso landslide, people there told her they wanted to preserve a popular lookout at Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, to keep drawing hikers to the area. She took that to Pasco House Republican Doc Hastings, who controls the key committee.

“I called up Doc. He immediately was helpful, understood the economic value of that and worked with me to get it passed, almost overnight.”  

That’s pretty unheard of in D.C. politics.

Murray says the stalemate was broken, trust established and they began making deals. Among Hasting’s priorities was re-opening the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain in the Hanford Reach National Monument.

And both parties say they’re excited about the new Manhattan Project national historical park to be created around Hanford’s B reactor.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to