After years of second-city status, Spokane would finally get its due under a bill passed Wednesday by the Washington state Senate.
Senate Bill 5318 would require state fish and wildlife officials to work with their American and Canadian counterparts to protect a massive wildlife corridor known as the Yellowstone to Yukon Eco-Region. The 2,000-mile-long swath, which proponents call Y2Y, includes the northeast corner of Washington, much of Montana and most of Idaho.
And the U.S. "capital" of the region would be, yes, Spokane.
But what prime sponsor Sen. Ken Jacobsen saw as a modest proposal prompted a clash on the Senate floor Wednesday, with critics suggesting that northeastern Washington is being set up for more land-use restrictions.
"If you live or own property in this area, you should be shaking in your boots right now," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.
Stretching from Canada's Yukon Territory through British Columbia and as far south as Wyoming, the Y2Y region is the world's second-largest animal migration corridor, Jacobsen said.
"It's a unique area, and all this says is we should participate in helping it," he told lawmakers.
Except for one extinct type of minnow, Jacobsen said, the plants and animals in northeastern Washington are the same as when Lewis and Clark came through.
Proponents of protecting the Y2Y corridor say they want to foster the coexistence of humans and the ecosystem and hope to see land-use decisions in the region based primarily on ecological principles.
Critics, who include every Republican in the Senate, blasted the idea. Benton suggested that preserving the wildlife corridor would lead to closing roads.
"That's pretty scary, isn't it?" he said. "Road closures. Do we want to close I-90 going through Spokane because of the Y2Y program?"
Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, decried the whole idea, including the naming of Spokane as the region's capital.
"The audacity, for a group – 90 percent of their group are Canadians – declaring Spokane as the capital for their endeavors, is preposterous!" Morton, visibly angry, told the Senate.
And Morton, suggesting that the corridor would bring more grizzly bears and wolves to the region, sounded unimpressed with the Lewis-and-Clark-era ecosystem.
"We don't want to go back to those days," he said. "They ate three of their horses when they were in this area, in order to make it through."
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, suggested that Canadians should focus instead on trying to stop drug trafficking into northeastern Washington. That's needed more than "a walkway for our animals," she said.
Proponents appeared to be caught off guard by the resistance.
"There's nothing regulatory in the bill," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia. "And actually it might even be good for tourism."
As for the clause declaring Spokane the capital, Jacobsen said, he just added that "so people would think to go to it. It's no plot."
The measure passed, 30-19, and now goes to the House of Representatives.