Saturday, July 18, 2015

History of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

“It was here the ice had truly done it's magic. Twisted and gouging, it had sculpted the land. Making the region unlike any other in the Cascades, it had scooped and shaped pockets, which filled with water and became a dazzling array of lakes. Over six hundred were carved from the landscape between what later were called Stevens and Snoqualmie passes. Randomly scattered, they were an incomparable assortment of high, granite-bound tarns, shadowy ponds on the mountainside, and wide, long lakes in the valleys.” 
― David Knibb, "Backyard Wilderns The Alpine Lakes Story"

Alpine Lakes Wilderness where I am working was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1976 after a lot of work and research by Washington residents. It was originally supposed to be proposed by an ineragency study team in the 60's but the team could not agree on boundaries for the area. The Forest Service initially proposed two areas bisected by Jack Creek (there was talk of creating a road through to Leavenworth) and Epps Pass (where there were mining claims and at one point claims for the owners to want to develop a ski area) while Department of the Interior wanted one large area. In the fall of 1968 a group of Washington residents formed the Alpine Lake Preservation Society (ALPS) in what would turn out to be a multi-year effort to protect the Alpine Lakes area. ALPS worked to decide where Wilderness boundaries should be while at the same time other conservation-centric groups (Sierra Club, North Cascades Conservation Council, Mountaineers, Mazamas) were working on their own proposals for Wilderness designation.

In the September of 1971 the Washington state congressional delegation requested some resource studies from the Forest Service to help in the decision making of the potential Wilderness. The Forest Service said it would not be able to complete these studies until fall of 1973 which upset ALPS and the other conservation groups because the more time went on with no Wilderness designation, the more roads were being pushed into the potential Wilderness and the more commercial logging and mining development was happening. Some of the logging companies ramped up their operations, acquiring more mills in hopes to capitalize on forest areas before they were closed to logged by Wilderness protection. However, in November of 1971 Governor Dan Evans asked the Forest Service not to push development into any area that any group was proposing as potential Wilderness.

In 1973 four bills were introduced to Congress by the following groups: ALPS, Forest Service, CWCST (Central Washington Cascade Study Team, a group made up by timber company representatives/ supporters), and the conservation groups (Sierra Club, North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC), The Mountaineers, Mazamas). Though initially working on separate proposals (ALPS's had less Wilderness and included a "National Recreation Area" (NRA) which similar to designated "Wilderness" adds another level of protection and management regulations to federal land), ALPS teamed up with these other groups in fall of 1974 and came to an agreement with them on boundaries to strengthen their support for the proposal; their joined proposal would have 575,000 acres of Wilderness. In 1975 there were now three bills submitted to the congressional Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation. Though each proposal was different based on the interest group that submitted it, ALL four bills proposed some amount of Wilderness protection. There was then a series of public hearings where public could voice their opinions on the proposals, one of which brought out a lot of conservation/Wilderness supporters and another that brought out a lot of support for the CWCST proposal....made up largely of people whose livelihood depended on the logging industry.

The subcommittee amended the bill proposed by ALPS and the conservation groups. The amended subcommittee bill proposed 304,00 acres of Wilderness plus about 80,000 more acres to be added in when private land plots were acquired/bought by the federal government. The NRA portion of the proposal was tossed out and the amended bill was approved by the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee in February of 1976, despite opposition by the current President (Ford) and Forest Service. The Forest Service opposition was based on costs to acquire private land that would fall within proposed Wilderness boundary and restrictiveness on managing the land. In June the bill was submitted to the full House and then the Senate. It was approved by both. On July 12th, 1976 despite earlier proclamations against the bill, President Ford signed it and Alpine Lakes Wilderness was born and 393,000 acre were to officially be preserved under protections set forth by the Wilderness Act. This past December 2014, congress voted to add 22,000 acres to the Wilderness bumping the acreage up to 414,161 acres!

Alpine Lakes Wilderness proposals:
-CWCST: 223, 580 acres
-Forest Service: submitted various options falling around 200,000-300,000 acres
-Sierra Club: 533,000 acres
-North Cascades Conservation Council: 580,000 acres
-ALPS: can't find acreage on this
-conservation proposal put forward when ALPS, Sierra Club, NCCC, the Mountaineers joined forces: 575,000 acres

Most of the information in the post was gathered from the book Backyard Wilderness The Alpine Lakes Story by David Knibb. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1982.