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Bridging the divide on wilderness

Posted by Andrew Engelson at Nov 20, 2007 10:00 AM |

In yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, columnist Joel Connelly sought to bridge the divide between environmentalists and Republican lawmakers.

In his column yesterday, Connelly singles out former governor Dan Evans as an example of a tradition of Republicans who've supported wilderness and active outdoor recreation. He also points to Congressman Dave Reichert's recent proposal to add to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as an extension of that tradition.

I've long said that protecting Washington's incredible backcountry is an issue that transcends party politics. And many of the issues WTA works on have broad support on both sides of the aisle. Last year, state legislators from both parties supported WTA's request to increase funding for Washington State DNR Natural Resource Conservation Areas. And last year, all members of our state's delegation to the House of Representatives--Republican and Democrat--signed on to a WTA-sponsored letter urging Congress to find funds to repair $65 million  in storm-damaged roads and trails. Plus, the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness has long had bi-partisan support in our state.

Democrats don't have a lock outdoor-friendly legislation. Case in point:  last month, Congress unanimously passed a bill introduced by representative Doc Hastings (R-4) that would purchase land in order to clear up access issues to the Juniper Dunes Wilderness near Richland. Access to the Juniper Dunes has been complicated by roads that cross private property. This led WTA to include Juniper Dunes in our 2006 Endangered Trails Report. This legislation will make it much easier to hike this fascinating desert ecosystem.

Likewise, numerous Democrats have supported WTA's initiatives. Congressman Norm Dicks has championed increasing Forest Service recreation budgets. Democratic legislators worked hard to try to increase funding for trail stewards on DNR lands last session. Although this increase didn't pass, WTA will be urging for its passage again this year.

These issues affect hikers and the quality of life in our state--and lawmakers from both parties now realize this.

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