House Approves Larsen's Bill to Protect Illabot Creek in Skagit County

Jun 5, 2012

WASHINGTON—The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to approve a bill authored by Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, to designate Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a part of the Wild and Scenic River System. The bill, H.R. 1740, would protect 14.3 miles of Illabot Creek, a tributary of the Skagit River and a vital habitat for threatened salmon and other wildlife, while maintaining recreational access for hunting and fishing. The bill passed on a voice vote.

“Passing this bill brings us one big step closer to preserving vital wildlife habitat in Skagit County and keeps us on the path to recovery of important salmon spawning waters in the Pacific Northwest,” Larsen said. “I am proud to have broken through the partisan gridlock in the House of Representatives to pass this bill for the residents of Skagit County.”

Larsen spoke on the House floor today, urging his colleagues to support the bill. The text and video of that speech is below.

“Illabot Creek is a beautiful part of our community and an integral part of the Skagit Valley ecosystem,” Larsen added. “By preserving this habitat we are ensuring that Skagit County residents and visitors will be able to continue hunting, fishing and hiking in the region. When we support vital salmon spawning waters like this, we protect the fishing industry jobs that depend on healthy fish populations.”

Sen. Patty Murray has introduced, and Sen. Maria Cantwell has cosponsored, companion legislation in the Senate. That bill, S. 888, was approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January and now awaits a vote by the full Senate.

“This is an important step toward preserving Illabot Creek and making sure future generations can access the tremendous natural beauty of one of our state’s most amazing natural spaces,” said Senator Patty Murray. “I’ve been proud to work with Representative Larsen, Senator Cantwell, and the local community to write this legislation. I am very glad it passed the House today, and I am going to keep working to move it through the Senate so that it can be signed into law.”

The bill has the support of hunters, farmers, environmentalists, local and state governments in the region.

“Not only is Illabot Creek a great place to fly fish but as a spawning ground it is essential for the continued health of the Skagit River fishery,” said Patrick O'Hearn, member and past-president of the Fidalgo Fly Fishers in Skagit County. “Knowing what this protection means for the river, and having been part of the work that Congressman Larsen and the community has put into this bill, I am happy to see it successfully pass the House.”

“Passage of this bill is great news for Skagit County,” said Skagit County Commissioner Sharon Dillon. “I thank Congressman Larsen and Senator Murray for their efforts.  The protection of Illabot Creek is crucial for the vitality of the Skagit River’s health and the habitat of the wildlife that depend on it.”

“Illabot Creek is one of the most prolific salmon and trout streams in Washington and ground zero for the Skagit’s famous bald eagle concentration,” said Bob Carey, Director of Strategic Partnerships for The Nature Conservancy in Washington. “We appreciate Congressman Larsen’s commitment to its protection—a goal that has won the support of local government, power utilities, the recreation industry and environmental organizations alike.”

Illabot Creek flows for 14.3 miles through Skagit County, starting at Snow King Mountain 7,500 feet up in the Cascades and tumbling down to join the Skagit River at 500 feet above sea level. Illabot Creek provides crucial spawning habitat for wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, all threatened species, and is home to numerous other species including bald eagles that roost along the creek.

The Skagit River watershed supports one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Because of the abundance of salmon and the high quality of habitat, Illabot Creek is the center of foraging activity and supports two communal night roosts. One roost area is within the existing Skagit Wild and Scenic River corridor. The second is within the proposed Illabot Creek Wild and Scenic River designation. This abundance of bald eagles is a major attraction in Skagit County, and supports tourist activity, including the Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival.

Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1968 to preserve certain rivers of outstanding value in a free-flowing condition for future generations. This bill would prohibit dams and other water projects that impair the free-flowing nature of the creek and establish a protected corridor extending one-quarter mile from the ordinary high-water mark on both sides of the river. Designating Illabot Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River will complement other local habitat protection and salmon and trout recovery efforts that are underway in the Skagit basin.

According to The Nature Conservancy, Illabot Creek and the surrounding area are home to the following species: Chinook salmon, Chum salmon, Coho salmon, Pink salmon, Sockeye salmon, Steelhead trout, Bull trout, Cutthroat trout, Marten, Roosevelt elk, Western toad, Bald eagle, Band-tailed pigeon, Blue grouse, Kestrel, Marbled murrelet, Northern spotted owl, Olive-sided flycatcher, Osprey, Pacific slope flycatcher, Peregrine falcon, Rufous hummingbird, Townsend’s warbler, Western wood peewee, and the Willow flycatcher.

Rep. Rick Larsen Floor Statement on Bill to Protect Illabot Creek in Skagit County
June 5, 2012 

Mr. Speaker I rise to support the passage my bill, H.R. 1740, and urge my colleagues to vote in favor of this important measure.

I want to thank Chairman Hastings, Chairman Bishop and Subcommittee Ranking Members Markey and Grijalva for their help in getting this important bill to the floor.

I have the honor of representing one of the most scenic parts of the country, Washington state’s Second District. The Second District is home to the North Cascades Mountains and the beautiful San Juan Islands. It’s also home to some of the best fishing in the country, both commercially and recreationally.

Salmon and groundfish stocks are beginning to recover all around the Northwest. Part of the reason this is happening is we’ve begun to protect the places that are important for fish habitat. When we protect these places, we protect the jobs that come from the fishing industry. This preservation is the catalyst to introducing the legislation before us.

Illabot Creek travels from the Glacier Park Wilderness Area to the upper Skagit River, falling 7,000 feet during its journey. The water of Illabot Creek provides the optimal conditions for wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout—all species listed as threatened.

This legislation will designate 14.3 miles of Illabot Creek as Wild and Scenic, protecting these species while ensuring that hunting and fishing and other recreational activities continue. Protecting this area has the support of local hunters, farmers, environmentalists, anglers, and local and state governments in my district.

I want to thank Senator Patty Murray for introducing this bill’s companion in the Senate, and I hope that body will soon take up this bill as well. I appreciate Minority Whip Hoyer and the Chairman and Ranking Member’s support for bringing this legislation to the floor, and I urge my colleagues to support its passage and protect this important body of water.