Protecting our region's natural assets is far cheaper than restoring what we've destroyed. This is why it is essential that bipartisan legislation in Congress recently introduced by Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Norm Dicks and Dave Reichert be enacted into law.

From the metropolitan hubs of Seattle and Tacoma to the pristine wilderness of the Alpine Lakes, Puget Sound defines our region both economically and geographically. It is America's second-largest estuary, an economic super-engine and an environmental treasure that encompasses more than 12,000 square miles. Legendary runs of salmon and steelhead, iconic orcas and a number of native shellfish depend on it.

Businesses thrive from it. Menus are inspired by it. And we all love to play in it.

A healthy Puget Sound is vital to our way of life.

Earlier this year, Dicks and Murray moved to preserve this unique wonderland by introducing the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012. Their proposal would protect more than 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest as a federal wilderness area and designate 19 rivers and their main tributaries as "wild and scenic."

Protecting these places is a priority in the Puget Sound Partnership's Action Agenda, the region's road map to restoring a resilient Puget Sound. This legislation represents a big step forward to protect the rivers and streams vital to our region's goals.

The Alpine Lakes wilderness additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act, introduced by Murray and Reichert, also help achieve to this mission.

It's this kind of game-changing, comprehensive and visionary work that the partnership fully supports and celebrates. We applaud leaders like Murray, Dicks and Reichert for working together to defend Puget Sound.

In an ecosystem burdened by increasing population growth and a changing climate, the benefits provided by protecting intact watersheds are something that, frankly, money cannot buy. Permanently protecting key intact rivers and streams that feed into Puget Sound is a common-sense, fiscally responsible approach.

The bold protection package proposed by our federal legislators works at a scale that will create dramatic change and indisputably save taxpayers money now and into the future. Designating wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers is both economically and ecologically beneficial.

To save Puget Sound, we must combine forces and work together. We must look for every opportunity to partner, share resources, overcome challenges and celebrate successes.

We commend the hard work and foresight of our delegation and urge them to continue their efforts to enact these important bills into law. The people of the region should insist on this kind of bipartisan, forward-thinking approach.
Our future and the future of Puget Sound depend on it.

Bill Ruckelshaus was the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and founding chair of the governing board for the Puget Sound Partnership. Martha Kongsgaard is the founder and president of the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation and current chair of the partnership's governing board.