Nearly six years after it was first introduced, a bill to create a Wild Sky Wilderness northeast of Seattle has become law. President Bush signed a...

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WASHINGTON — Nearly six years after it was first introduced, a bill to create a Wild Sky Wilderness northeast of Seattle has become law.

President Bush signed a bill Thursday making Wild Sky the first new wilderness area in Washington state in nearly a quarter-century.

The House gave final approval to the bill last month. It designates 167 square miles in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest north of the town of Index as federal wilderness, the government’s highest level of protection.

Wild Sky, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, both Washington Democrats, is the first new federally designated wilderness in the state since 1984.

“Reaching the end of the trail never felt so good,” Larsen said Thursday. “Today marks the summit of a long journey made possible by many committed people and years of community input. Together, we not only created a new wilderness bill, but a new model for creating wilderness in the future.”

Murray said Wild Sky “has always brought diverse people together to do what’s right for our environment and our future. I can’t wait to lace up my tennis shoes and take those first steps into Washington’s first new wilderness area in 24 years.”

The bill signed today also designates a site on Bainbridge Island, where hundreds of Japanese-Americans were forced from their homes on the way to internment camps during World War II, as a national historic site.

It also designates a recreation trail in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest in honor of former Rep. Jim Weaver, D-Ore.

Wild Sky, a proposal first introduced in 2002, covers approximately 106,000 acres of low-elevation forest on the west slope of the Cascades. The wilderness designation will block development and other economic activity in a sprawling area north of Highway 2 that includes habitat for bears, bald eagles and other wildlife, as well as streams, hiking trails and other recreation.

Murray, who has championed the measure for nearly nine years, said it was “an example of wilderness done the right way,” with support from a range of local groups and elected officials.

Wild Sky, named for the Skykomish River, is 90 minutes from Seattle and offers millions of people access to rolling hills, rushing rivers and low-elevation forests, supporters say. The area now will be preserved for generations to come, they said.

Environmentalists hailed the bill-signing and praised Larsen and Murray for their work.

“We’ve waited a long time for this day, and oh, what a great day it is,” said Jon Owen of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness. “After a long struggle, Sen. Murray and Congressman Larsen have brought Wild Sky home for all of us, protected for all time. For Americans of all walks of life, of different viewpoints and different interests, Wild Sky is truly our common ground.”