Recently, the most surprising thing happened to wildlands conservation in Washington: Republican congressman Dave Reichert announced that he would seek a large addition to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness—somwehere on the order of 30,000 acres. (Coverage here and here.)

Not only was I surprised to hear of the announcement (for reasons I’ll get to in a moment), I was surprised at the reaction. First, P-I columnist Joel Connelly warmly praised Reichert’s initiative in a blog post. But then David Goldstein and presumptive challenger Darcy Burner attacked Reichert for playing politics, and Goldstein lambasted Connelly too. Today in his column, Connelly responds.

Connelly’s response is fine as far as it goes (it’s mostly about toning down the hyper-partisanship that’s infected politics). But I would have taken a different tack. Let’s suppose for a moment that Reichert really is just a cynic, trying to burnish his environmental record. (And Reichert’s environmental record does need burnishing, as Goldstein rightly points out.) Let’s say further that the wilderness proposal is a crass ploy to look green. Because if that’s the case, well then…

Uh, er, well… if that’s the case, then we still end up with tens of thousands of acres of new wilderness. And this addition isn’t rock and ice territory, the kind of low-economic-value, easy-to-preserve acreage that comprises much of the world’s wilderness. The land Reichert’s talking about is mostly rich lowland forest, complete with streams and wetlands. And it’s very close to the burgeoning Puget Sound megalopolis. In short: it’s awesome.

So whatever Reichert’s motivation may be—and I really don’t care—I’m happy to see the proposal. If you’ve followed Northwest conservation for almost any length of time, you’ll know that it wasn’t terribly long ago that when officials played politics with public lands, it meant firing up chainsaws. Or worse. But things have changed apparently. So if playing politics now means granting permanent wilderness protection to forest and streams then, golly, I want our electeds would get down to business and start playing politics.

Update: Over at Signpost, Andrew Engelson has more detailed commentary on the proposal.