126,554 acres of Olympic Peninsula would be protected by new bill
The Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic River Act of 2012 was introduced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.
Seattle Times staff reporter
What it would doWild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
Designate 126,554 acres of new wilderness in the Olympic National Forest
and note an additional 5,346 acres of wilderness that could be designated by future administrations.
Designate 19 rivers and seven tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Preserve and enhance existing recreational access in the Olympic National Forest.
Protect drinking water and safeguards fisheries through conservation of critical watersheds.
Source: Office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray
Key leaders of Washington's congressional delegation introduced legislation intended to protect Olympic Peninsula forests and rivers from logging, dams and other development.
Three years in the negotiating, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic River Act of 2012 was introduced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton. The bill is a far cry from the original and more controversial version proposed in 2010 by conservationists but still takes big steps to permanently protect some of the Olympics' most beloved landscapes.
"The amazing natural treasures in the Olympic Peninsula are among the crown jewels of our state, and the Wild Olympics proposal will build on the strong foundation of conservation that has been laid down over generations," Murray said in a news release.
The legislation would create 126,554 acres of new wilderness on Olympic National Forest lands, including 93,959 acres of old-growth trees at least 160 years old, and 107,982 acres of mature trees older than 80 years. Some trees that would be protected are more than 700 years old.
The proposal also would create 19 new Wild and Scenic Rivers in Olympic National Forest, Washington Department of Natural Resources Lands, and within Olympic National Park.
Wild & Scenic designation prohibits federally licensed dams. It also creates a planning process to manage the land within a quarter-mile corridor in contiguous stretches of federal and state lands along the river to protect a river's wild, scenic or recreational values. Private lands would not be affected unless owners are supportive. The legislation includes no condemnation authority.
The proposal steps back from the big plans of its earlier versions that sought to protect nearly 1 million acres, because of objections raised by timber companies concerned about loss of timberlands, and tribes that feared loss of access for treaty-protected hunting.
The North Olympic Timber Action Committee has said the designation would result in the loss of 113 to 226 timber jobs, and the Central Committee of the Clallam County Republican Party last year passed a resolution against the proposal.
The new bill dropped the entire 37,000 acres of proposed additions to the national park and removed 11,300 acres of harvestable timber lands, including second-growth plantations from the proposed wilderness.
The bill also added 7,400 acres of old-growth and mature trees to the proposed wilderness.
Some said Thursday they doubted that the changes in the bill would make much difference in timber communities where opposition to expanding wilderness areas still runs deep.
"I don't think it is playing much differently, it is a very divided community and a very divisive issue," said Tim Gibbs, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor, a combined chamber of commerce and economic development organization for Grays Harbor County.
"For the majority of people I think their minds were made up before the pared-down version. I think personally this is a battle where no matter what you have the people are going to be very upset. There is a history to this as well, if you look at a community that used to have wood-processing facilities all around the harbor and they are all gone now, it's different."
The issue also has been a distraction for a community still trying to rebuild from the collapse of its timber economy. At 13.7 percent, Grays Harbor County has the highest unemployment rate in the state.
"I don't want anything to take our eye off that fact. We have significant things that are going on, it's not all doom and gloom, but we have to keep our eye on the ball," Gibbs said.
The bill is intended to maintain and improve recreational access through the public planning process called for under the Wild & Scenic Rivers designation.
Rivers slated for protection include the Elwha within Olympic National Park, the Lyre, Dungeness (including Gray Wolf River tributary), Big Quilcene, Dosewallips, Duckabush and Hamma Hamma, as well as portions of the South Fork Skokomish, Quinault, Queets, Hoh and Sol Duc.
The primary effect of the legislation is to prevent future administrations from opening up ancient forests and wild rivers to new logging, road building, mining, drilling or dams.
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lyndavmapes.