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Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Republican lawmaker to take a look at Wild Sky Wilderness

The Associated Press

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The bills: Information on the bills, S.152 and H.R. 851, is available at http://thomas.loc.gov/

GOP event calendar : www.republicanradio.com/calendar.php

WASHINGTON — A Republican lawmaker who has single-handedly blocked a bill to create a Wild Sky Wilderness northeast of Seattle will get his first look at the site this week.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, will tour the 106,000-acre area Thursday by helicopter. Two Wild Sky opponents, Snohomish County Council member Jeff Sax and apple grower Ed Husmann, will also be on board and will later join Pombo at a fundraiser for the Snohomish County GOP.

Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Wild Sky bill, setting up a potential conflict with his fellow Republican, Pombo.

Reichert, who replaced Jennifer Dunn in the 8th District seat representing Seattle's Eastside suburbs, quietly endorsed Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen's bill on July 28 — the day before Congress began its summer recess.

Reichert's support is considered crucial, since all other Washington state lawmakers backing the bill are Democrats. The Senate has approved the Wild Sky proposal three times in the past four years, but the plan has never come up for a vote on the House floor, largely because of Pombo's opposition.

Reichert's chief of staff, Mike Shields, said the congressman has long favored Wild Sky.

"Dave supports Wild Sky. He does not think the Larsen bill is perfect, but when he first talked about this earlier in the year, it became very clear that Chairman Pombo does not intend on letting this legislation out of committee," Shields said.

Given that reality, Reichert believes the best position is to work with Larsen and other Democrats, Shields said.

"Dave can work together with everyone to get something done," Shields said. "Maybe it won't end up being this bill, but as long as it's set up as 'us versus them' we are going to be at a stalemate."

Sax, a Republican, said the idea for the helicopter tour came from Pombo, who will be in the state for a fundraiser Wednesday in Seattle.

He basically said, "'What would it take to get this (tour) going for Wild Sky?' " Sax said.

The event is not considered an official government trip, and the cost of the helicopter ride is being donated to Pombo's political action committee, Sax and other organizers said. They did not have a cost estimate for the trip.

Abbey Levenshus, a Larsen spokeswoman, said her boss was glad Pombo was finally going to see the Wild Sky site, after opposing the bill for several years.

"Whatever it takes to get him out there so he can see it" is good, she said, adding that Larsen will follow up on the visit with any information Pombo requests.

The bill would designate 106,000 acres in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as wilderness, the government's highest level of protection. The measure includes 13,000 acres that contain several former logging roads and other marks of human intrusion — marks that Pombo and other critics say conflict with the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Pombo killed a proposed Wild Sky bill last year, saying wilderness protection should extend only to lands untouched by humans. He supported a compromise plan that would have protected nearly 93,000 acres as wilderness, while designating 13,300 acres for backcountry management, a less restrictive federal designation that would allow off-road vehicles.

Sax called the tour — and a barbecue fundraiser at Ed's Apples in Sultan, Wash. — a grassroots effort. The idea is not only to raise money "but also to generate support from local people who believe in practical land use rather than lock-it-up land use — true conservation, rather than protectionism," Sax said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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