New Wilderness In NE WA?

The south end of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is about as far as you can get from the towns of Kettle Falls and Republic in more ways than one, but that’s where Conservation Northwest chose to kick off its Westside campaign to protect large swaths of the Colville National Forest.

Over free pizza and beer at Piecora’s along Madison, members of the Bellingham-based organization briefed an audience of 30 to 35 people on the Columbia Highlands Initiative which would set aside around 215,000 acres in the Kettle Crest and Selkirk Mountains as new wilderness as well as keep local mills in business with a guaranteed supply of saw logs from an area at least twice that size.

It’s not as much wild land as Conservation Northwest hoped for back in 2005 when it published a book on the project that showed vast swatches of the Colville off limits for logging, road building and other development, but it also marks a new way to work with locals on the future of the lands around them.

“It’s wilderness and it’s working ranches,” said CNW executive director Mitch Friedman about the years-long collaborative effort with loggers, conservationists, cattle grazers, recreationists and other members of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition to come up with a plan for how to manage federal lands in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

The vision includes setting aside the Kettle Crest north and south of Sherman Pass, Abercrombie and Hooknose Mountains west of Metaline Falls and padding the existing Salmo-Priest Wilderness where Washington, Idaho and British Columbia come together.

An area twice that size would remain open for active logging and another 400,000 acres would be  managed for restorative timber harvest. The balance of the forest, some 200,000 acres, would fall under recreation and conservation area statuses.

The group calls the region an “extremely important bridge between the Rockies and Cascades” for critters. It’s home to mountain caribou, mule deer, elk, cougars, bear, wolves, moose and more.

(CONSERVATION NORTHWEST)

While Washington already has some 4.4 million acres of wilderness — a point that was noted repeatedly in 8 pages of discussion of the proposal at Hunting Washington — 96.4 percent of that total is west of U.S. Highway 97, which splits the state in rough halves.

The initiative has been endorsed by members of regional hunting groups, such as Tony Heckard and Gregg Bafundo of Washington Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Leonard Wolf of the Spokane chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, Richard Mathieson of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council and John Campbell of Pend Oreille Valley Sportsman in Newport, according to a document forwarded from CNW.

They call the initiative an “innovative, new direction that will help sustain Northeast Washington’s economy and quality of life and will ensure that we maintain healthy populations of diverse wildlife and quality hunting and fishing opportunities and access … preserve wilderness quality lands where those in search of the challenge and freedom of a backcountry hunt, hike, or pack trip can leave the roads, vehicles, and ATVs behind to find increasingly rare quiet and solitude, while still providing access to our lands and places for off-road vehicles to ride.”

Indeed, it’s sometimes mistakenly believed that wilderness designation precludes hunting, but that’s not so, as those Washington hunters roaming the Glacier Peak, Alpine Lakes, Pasayten, Henry M. Jackson and Olympic National Forest wilderness areas the last week for deer know.

Still, Friedman will have a tough go convincing some sportsmen who may recall the name from his days at Earth First! when he strapped himself to trees to keep them from being cut down.

Dozens of arrests and years later, he’s now embracing logging — to a degree. A speech he gave in 1996 highlights a changing mindset, and he was also quoted as saying of his tree-sitting days, “I kept getting arrested with the same six hippies. Here we were, getting carried away with how radical we were, to the exclusion of building strategic alliances.”

Standing in front of last night’s audience in a button-down shirt, tanned and with a clean-shaven head, he spoke to the new approach.

“Instead of ‘Leave the old growth alone, you SOBs!’ it’s ‘Let’s fix the second growth, you beautiful people,'” he said.

Friedman acknowledged that there still are some in the region who aren’t in favor of the blueprint — some ranchers as well as ORV enthusiasts — but he asked those who attended to send hand-written letters to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and House Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in support of the effort.

In our November issue, writer Leroy Ledeboer weighs the proposal from a hunter’s standpoint in a well-balanced 2,000-word piece, and I’ll have more on Friedman’s unexpected orange side.

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2 Responses to “New Wilderness In NE WA?”

  1. Jasmine Minbashian Says:

    Great article, with one minor correction. Our first grassroots kickoff party for the Columbia Highlands Initiative was held in Spokane on Aug. 19th, and tonight we’re hosting another one in Republic. So these are being held all over the state, not just Seattle.

  2. Rural Legislators Question WDFW’s Wolf Info, Land Plans « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] met him in mid-September as CNW campaigned in Seattle for new wilderness, more sawlogs and continued cattle grazing in the Colville National […]

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