Wilderness Protection in the North Cascades
Wilderness has been called the "hard green line." Congressionally designated Wilderness is the highest level of protection available for public lands in the United States, and the most durable. Other than very limited exceptions for public safety, motorized or mechanized devices are not permitted in Wilderness areas. Logging, road building, mining, ORVs, ATVs, snowmobiles, and mountain bikes are excluded. Pack animals are permitted, and trails can be built, but not with power equipment. Hunting, fishing, and all non-mechanized recreational activities are allowed. Wilderness keeps things the way they are, more effectively than any other land designation.
Wilderness areas are not easy to establish. Most take years, sometimes many years, of patient work. Both houses of Congress must pass a Wilderness bill, and a president must be willing to sign it into law. There are many hurdles to overcome in what is always a difficult process. But one of the greatest beauties of Wilderness is that once enacted, it is very difficult to un-enact. There are very few cases where land has been removed from congressionally designated Wilderness. It is the gold standard of land protection in the United States.
A Brief History of Wilderness and Park Advocacy in the North Cascades
Since 1957, NCCC’s top priority has been has been to protect public lands in the North Cascades by establishing the North Cascades National Park and adjacent Wilderness Areas. Thanks in large part to NCCC's unremitting efforts over half a century, the map of the North Cascades looks far different now than it did in 1957 at NCCC's founding, with vastly more dark green.
Prior to passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, there were a small number of administratively designated areas on National Forest lands, some of which were called Wilderness, along with others called Backcountry or Primitive areas. Some of these were the legacy of the progressive 1930's Forest Service of Bob Marshall. However, what the Forest Service could designate, it could also un-designate. Timber interests captured the Forest Service in decades after WWII. There were many cases where lands in these areas were unprotected at the stroke of a pen when the Forest Service decided to develop them. Faced with this intolerable situation, conservationists worked for years to pass the Wilderness Act.
With the Forest Service of the 1960's focused exclusively on logging, NCCC decided to pursue National Park designation for as much of the North Cascades as possible. In 1968, NCCC's efforts paid off with designation of the North Cascades National Park, the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas (essentially National Parks where hunting is allowed), and the Pasayten Wilderness. The existing Glacier Peak Wilderness was also expanded at this time. Most of the North Cascades National Park and NRA's were later protected as Wilderness.
Perhaps most remarkably, the Wild Sky bill will also protect more than 6,000 acres of mature, naturally regenerated second growth forest. These second growth forests grow on the most productive, lowest elevation sites on the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. Railroad logged in the early twentieth century; they were never replanted and have grown back naturally with a mix of native species. Many trees now reach 150 feet or taller and are three feet or more in diameter. They are well on their way to becoming old growth. As of this writing, passage of Wild Sky is expected sometime early in 2008.
Wilderness Advocacy Today
The wild and beautiful landscapes of the North Cascades National Park and adjacent Wilderness Areas are now taken for granted by Washington State residents and visitors from throughout the world. However, important lowland forests and wildlife habitats remain outside the Park and Wilderness boundaries. NCCC and other conservation groups recognize the importance of these lowland forests for watershed protection and the survival of many North Cascades species. Much work remains to be done to expand Wilderness in the North Cascades.
Fortunately, there is now a groundswell of environmental awareness sweeping the country. The time is ripe for organized action to expand the Wilderness Areas in the North Cascades. The Wild Sky Wilderness proposal will soon be designated by Congress, adding more than 100,000 acres to Washington’s magnificent Wilderness areas. Other lowland areas are perfect for future Wilderness designation.
Local volunteer grassroots groups working closely with the North Cascades Conservation Council are currently developing proposals for large additions to North Cascades Wilderness Areas. These grassroots volunteer groups include Mount Baker Wild (MBW), the Friends of Seven Rivers (7 Rivers), and the Alpine Lakes Protection Society (ALPS). Other regional and national conservation groups are joining the effort.
It is imperative that NCCC, its grassroots conservation partners, and other conservation groups be in a position to take advantage of the groundswell of public support for environmental protection. To that end, NCCC is actively working on National Park and Wilderness additions. The American Alps Legacy Project is currently underway, and we are working with partners across the conservation community to realize a vision of North Cascades National Park with boundaries that are based on watershed/ecology.
What You Can Do to Help
Contacts for More Information
Tom Hammond (email@example.com)
North Cascades Conservation Council
P.O. Box 95980
Seattle, WA 98145-2980