National Recreation Areas – Protecting lands for People

By Cynthia Wilkerson, The Wilderness Society

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan has two primary goals – to provide water security for agriculture and provide water for fish and wildlife needs. Lands in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest have a critical role to play with both goals. Headwaters of the Yakima River, adjacent to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and roadless areas in both the Teanaway and Manastash-Taneum areas, stand out in terms of their watershed values. These lands capture and hold cold, clean water for fish and provide important habitat for wildlife. In order to ensure that the lands and waters continue to provide these services into the future, they must be protected. One way to protect some of these lands is through a National Recreation Area designation.

We cannot ignore the fact that the Teanaway and the Manastash-Tanuem are meccas for recreation. People travel from all around Washington State to enjoy the superb hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, motorcycling, jeeping, backcountry skiing, hunting, angling and rafting you can find in the Yakima Basin. Recreationists flock to the glorious mountains, swift streams and rolling meadows. These recreationists are vital to Kittitas County’s local economy. How can these lands be managed for their ecological and watershed values while allowing continued human use?

We think the answer is a combination of wilderness and National Recreation Area (NRA) land designations.

NRAs are a type of designation for federally managed lands – land that’s owned by every American. NRA designation protects an area for its recreation opportunities as well as clean water, healthy forests and thriving wildlife populations. That’s why we are supporting the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan’s NRA designation recommendations in the Upper Yakima and Manastash-Taneum areas.

This idea is certainly not new. National Recreation Area designation has been used over 40 times across our country’s public lands. These designations embrace a broad spectrum of public lands recreation – from primitive to motorized. We envision Yakima Basin NRAs as an opportunity to embrace the variety of activities that are currently occurring on those lands, to manage them so that the lands can sustain quality experiences into the future, and to ensure necessary funding for the Forest Service to plan, enforce and implement the management needs of these public lands. As such, they will also serve as powerful economic engines for Kittitas County – people will be drawn to these places to work, live near, view and recreate on these special lands, and will spend their money locally to support these experiences.

As we continue to work with others to define the boundaries and management direction of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan’s recommended National Recreation Areas, as well as recommended wilderness areas, we are cognizant of the balance that is being struck between human use and ecological integrity. Meeting both the needs of the land and the needs of people is key to a successful Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Resources:

The Wilderness Society’s National Recreation Area Report

 

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