Legal win in Mardee Lake case big step for protection of critical wildlife corridor

Legal win in Mardee Lake case big step for protection of critical wildlife corridor

Conservation Northwest / Aug 28, 2023 / Connecting Habitat, I-90 Wildlife, Protecting Wildlands

Victory for wildlife in Snoqualmie Pass!

Conservation Northwest joins our legal partners at Crag Law Center in celebrating last week’s victory protecting wildlife, fish habitat, and wetlands near Snoqualmie Pass. We filed a lawsuit this spring to try to protect the threatened wildlife corridor encompassing Mardee Lake, which has long been an area of focus in our work improving the ability of wildlife to cross Interstate 90 safely.

Our Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program has worked for years to restore habitat on public lands north and south of I-90 that are vital to wildlife movement between Mount Rainier National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The focus of this lawsuit is the Gold Creek Critical Wildlife Corridor – adjacent to I-90 near Hyak – an area we’re quite familiar with from years of wildlife monitoring and research to inform crossing structures, as well as engaging volunteers in habitat restoration work parties.

An elk herd traveling under I-90 through the Gold Creek Wildlife Undercrossing. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation

Crag attorney Meriel Darzen and co-counsel Wyatt Golding filed a lawsuit on behalf of Conservation Northwest in June 2023 to challenge a rezone that would open up 150 acres of sensitive habitat and migration corridor in the Pass to dense development. Last week, the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled that rezoning the property without a proper environmental review violated the Washington State Environmental Police Act (SEPA) and state laws protecting wetlands.  

“These “non-project action” cases can be tough to win, and we’ve added precedent to some other non-project cases in Washington state,” said Jen Syrowitz, Conservation Northwest Conservation Programs Senior Manager. “The Snoqualmie Pass corridor – including Mardee Lake – has irreplaceable ecological and connectivity significance that deserves special attention and consideration. The Growth Management Hearings Board Decision ensures that the values of this critical area will be thoughtfully considered before potential land use changes, and we hope it sets us up for good conservation practice through the Gold Creek Critical Wildlife Corridor moving forward.”

“This is a great victory for one of Washington’s special places – Snoqualmie Pass. In the last 20 years, the state and federal government and Tribes have invested millions in restoring and maintaining habitat in this critical watershed and migration corridor,” said Meriel Darzen, Crag Law Center Staff Attorney. Rezoning this area without any environmental analysis would have led to fragmentation of this sensitive habitat, hurting recovery efforts.” 

Learn more about our work protecting the Gold Creek Critical Wildlife Corridor

Washington has invested millions of dollars in wildlife restoration efforts, including building highway crossings for wildlife like elk, deer, coyote, beaver, and bobcat, to pass under and over the 6-lane I-90 highway safely. Photo by Washington Department of Transportation.