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Thursday, August 9, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Reichert has plans for Pratt River

Seattle Times environment reporter

A little-traveled river near North Bend and heavily used forestland along Interstate 90 would gain federal protection under a proposal to expand the boundaries of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, announced the plan Wednesday, saying he would seek to introduce it as a bill in Congress this fall. In all, it would add to a 394,000-acre reserve of craggy Cascade peaks, alpine lakes and forest sandwiched between I-90 and Highway 2.

It would be the first significant expansion of the wilderness area since its creation in 1976 and would protect forest surrounding popular trails just north of the interstate, as well as parts of the Pratt River valley.

The river drains high mountain lakes into the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, east of North Bend.

Reichert said he also wants to designate the Pratt as a Wild and Scenic River, which would prohibit dams, and create a half-mile-wide protected corridor along the river.

The exact boundaries of the proposed expansion haven't been determined.

Though federal wilderness protection bars activities such as mining, logging, motorized off-road vehicles and other machinery, Reichert said he has consulted with a variety of groups and doesn't expect objections.

"There's a lot of excitement out there," he said. "I really do think the [congressional] delegation can come together and make this move. It's not contentious."

The general manager for The Summit at Snoqualmie ski area, which is near the wilderness area, released a statement Wednesday that expressed no concerns about the expansion.

The announcement also represents a victory for wilderness advocates, already expecting to celebrate the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness north of the Alpine Lakes area. After stalling in Congress for years, it is now poised for passage this fall. Tom Uniack, conservation director of the Washington Wilderness Coalition, said Wild Sky is helping to set the stage after more than 20 years without a major new federal wilderness area in Washington.

"Really, Wild Sky was about getting back into the consciousness of protecting this wilderness," he said. "It seems to have been noticed. Hopefully wilderness is becoming relevant again for Washington state."

Protection for the Pratt River has been a focus for conservationists since it was left out of the original wilderness 31 years ago.

Much of the river valley was logged in the first half of the 20th century. The Forest Service dropped a 1980s-era plan to log the valley again, instead setting it aside to become old-growth forest, said Don Parks, president of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society.

For Parks, these new protections would help ensure that logging isn't revived.

"The importance of Congressman Reichert's initiative is to produce some surety for our children and grandchildren," he said.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published August 9, 2007, was corrected August 19, 2007. A proposed expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness would add an unknown amount of land to the wilderness area, which is now about 394,000 acres. A story Thursday incorrectly reported that the expansion would add 394,000 acres to the wilderness.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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