Transfer of park land would let Quileutes move from tsunami zone
More than 4,000 acres of Olympic National Park would be designated wilderness and nearly 800 other acres of the park would be transferred to the Quileute Tribe in a bill introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.
Seattle Times staff reporter
More than 4,000 acres of Olympic National Park would be designated wilderness and nearly 800 other acres of the park transferred to the Quileute Tribe in a bill introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.
The land deal is needed to help the tribe escape winter floods and the danger of getting hit by a tsunami, said Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer, chairwoman of the tribe.
The lower reservation routinely floods in winter storms, and its administration building, community center, school and many residences are smack in the tsunami zone.
Just last week, the only road in and out of the reservation was closed by winter floods, Counsell-Geyer said.
The lack of buildable land due to flooding has limited the tribe's options for economic development and created a shortage of housing, said Lonnie Foster, vice chairman of the tribal council.
"We only have a square mile of land, and half of the reservation is unusable because of flooding," Foster said.
Much of the tribe's housing in the lower village is also at risk if a tsunami were to sweep through the reservation. "There would be only landscaping and an island left," Foster said.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the tribe roamed over more than 900 square miles of the Olympic Peninsula, traveling from the Pacific Ocean to inland villages along the rivers and up into the mountains. It followed a seasonal round of hunting, fishing and gathering — and moving to safer ground come winter.
"Our ancestors were pretty smart about that," Foster said.
After signing a treaty with the U.S. government in 1855, the tribe ceded nearly all of its land, but for one square mile hard by the Pacific and the mouth of the Quillayute River.
The tribe has endured winter storms ever since, just like its neighbors to the south, the Hoh tribe.
President Obama last week promised to sign legislation passed by Congress to transfer 37 acres of the park to the Hoh Tribe, also to allow it to move to higher ground.
The bill introduced last week on behalf of the Quileutes also settles a long simmering dispute about the northern boundary between the tribe and the Olympic National Park, which surrounds the reservation.
Under the bill, the tribe would provide permanent public access to the trail to Second Beach — a trail it has at times closed in the past because of the dispute.
Access to both Second Beach and Rialto Beach would be preserved for the public along trails that run through tribal land.
In all, the bill denotes two parcels the park service would give the tribe and place into trust:
The first is a 275-acre south parcel, including about 222 acres of previously logged forestlands designated as wilderness.
The southern parcel could be developed by the tribe, including construction to replace buildings in the tsunami zone and to build more housing.
A second, northern parcel winds along the Quileute River, and totals 510 acres. Those lands are to be maintained in their present natural state, without development of permanent structures or new roads.
The tribe nonetheless highly values acquisition of the lands, because of their cultural and historic significance.
The bill specifies that all existing recreational uses would continue on the parcels of park lands proposed to be transferred to the tribe.
Elsewhere, park land around Lake Crescent and near Boulder Creek, a tributary of the Elwha River, would be designated wilderness — some 4,100 acres in all. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness.
Wilderness is the highest level of protection for public lands.
The designation adds restrictions intended to protect the natural character of the landscape, including a ban on the use of motorized or mechanical equipment, including mountain bikes, and limits on the size of groups that can visit the area at any one time.
Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said park staff provided technical assistance and information to draw the new proposed boundaries.
"We have been happy to assist and we are glad to see the bill is moving forward to address the health and safety needs of the tribe," Maynes said.
"It would mean the tribe would have a safe place to live. That has been part of the goal all along."
Dicks said the bill is needed for the tribe's safety.
"The Quileute day-care facility, the elder center, the tribal office and tribal members' homes are in the path of the tsunami that one day will surely come," Dicks said in his statement when introducing the bill.
"The only way to get the tribe out of the danger zone is for the park to transfer higher, safer lands to the tribe."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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