The glaciated, often snow and cloud-covered North Cascade Mountains, with their magnificent forests and wildlife, are an exceptional part of America's natural legacy.
Part of this mountain range was protected as the North Cascades National Park in 1968, and today a coalition of conservation and recreation groups in Western Washington is proposing a 237,702-acre expansion of the park. The goal is to add areas - all currently public lands - left out of the park nearly a half-century ago. The proposal is called the American Alps Legacy Proposal. Details can be accessed at americanalps.org.
Why expand the park?
First, the wildlife of this exceptional natural area needs more protection from the disruptions caused by human development, such as mining, hydropower, water storage and logging.
Populations of the most widely recognized species, such as grizzly bears and wolves, have been devastated by human activity during the past century. Other species, such as spotted owls and bull trout, are declining. Recovery of such species as mountain goats and salmon is stalled at barely sustainable levels.
National parks protect habitat for wildlife better than other management regimes and a bigger park will offer a greater chance that these wonderful wild creatures, along with wolverines, mountain lions and peregrine falcons, can survive here and flourish.
What are the threats that would be lessened by the expanded park? With gold and other mineral prices increasing, it seems only a matter of time before old mines are reopened and new mining claims are filed in critical unprotected areas. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already granted preliminary permits for hydropower facilities on Ruth and Swamp creeks in the upper north fork Nooksack watershed near the park boundary. Political pressure for water storage dams will increase as glaciers melt, snow and rainfall patterns change and streams become drier in summer.
Expansion of the park will provide greater assurance of continued high-quality water and consistent water supply by protecting some of the remaining old-growth forests and the upper reaches of pristine streams.
A second reason to expand the park is to increase recreational opportunities and consequent benefits to our communities that were missed when the boundaries were drawn back in the 1960s.
The expanded park will include low elevation lands (all public) in Whatcom and Skagit counties that will make the park more accessible and attractive to visitors. The proposal includes development of 20 miles of new family friendly trails, new education sites, expanded campgrounds, new visitor centers and other amenities that will bring more families and youth to the park.
The principal benefit of a national park is the protection it offers to natural beauty, but another benefit is economic. This has been proven time after time in national parks across the country, but our North Cascades National Park has not been the driver of economic benefit that it might be.
Why is this - because it is a mountain park with few accessible lowland areas?
The American Alps Legacy Proposal will address this shortcoming. An economic study, conducted by Power Consulting from Montana, found that bringing the park down to lower-elevation lands and adding new family friendly attractions will increase visitation and help create more than 1,000 private business jobs in rural communities surrounding the park. All of these lower-elevation lands are already public lands. Dedicating them to increased recreational opportunity will bring more benefit to visitors and residents, even as it expands habitat protection for wildlife and protects other resources.
The American Alps Legacy Proposal is a collaborative effort of the American Alps organization (based in Bellingham), the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, the Mountaineers Foundation, Skagit Audubon, Seattle Audubon, ConservAmerica, The North Cascades Conservation Council and other supporting organizations.
The initiative is guided by an advisory committee that includes Polly Dyer, Brock Evans, Dan Evans, Peter Jackson, Wyatt King, Art Kruckeberg, Estella Leopold, Mike McCloskey, John Miles, Peter Morrison, Gordon Orians, John Roskelley, Jim Whittaker, Jim Wickwire and Norm Winn. Several of these conservation leaders were instrumental in creation of the North Cascades National Park in 1968.
You can help protect these beautiful lands in your backyard. For more information or to help with the campaign, contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-296-5159.
Jim Davis of Bellingham is president of the American Alps organization. John Miles is a professor of environmental studies and former dean at Western Washington University's Huxley College. For more information online, go to americanalps.org.