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Originally published December 28, 2012 at 4:18 PM | Page modified December 28, 2012 at 4:17 PM

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Op-ed: Protect the Olympic Peninsula with the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

The congressional legislation would protect 126,000 acres of new wilderness on the Olympica National Forest and 19 of the peninsula’s iconic rivers, writes guest columnist Ralph Munro.

Special to The Times

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HAPPILY, the 2012 election is over, as it seemed especially polarizing, focusing far more on our disagreements than what we have in common. Now we need to put differences aside and find a way to collectively move forward.

One thing that has long brought Washingtonians together is a shared appreciation for our spectacular public lands. Throughout our history, Republicans and Democrats in our congressional delegation have set aside partisan disputes to protect places like the Glacier Peak Wilderness in 1964, Alpine Lakes Wilderness in 1976, Glacier Peak Wilderness in 1964, Olympic National Park Wilderness in 1988, and the Wild Sky Wilderness in 2008.

We have another key opportunity to come together to protect the Olympic Peninsula with legislation pending in Congress.

Washington’s priceless natural treasures are cornerstones of our economy. These public lands attract residents, investors and businesses in record numbers — drawn by our stunning scenery, world-class outdoor recreation and high quality of life.

In the past two decades, our population grew 56 percent faster than the nation as a whole, adding nearly 2 million people, creating jobs and growing our economy. Our outdoor-recreation industry alone supports an estimated 115,000 jobs and contributes $11.7 billion annually to our state.

But this rapid growth also brings more development, sprawl and loss of open space. That’s why designating new wilderness is more important than ever. And no place is more deserving than the magnificent Olympic Peninsula — a crown jewel of Washington’s natural heritage and a place I hold dear having grown up hiking and fishing there.

But a century of clear-cut logging and development resulted in the loss of most of our towering old-growth forests. We owe it to future generations to protect what remains of these rare, ancient rain forests and free-flowing rivers.

That’s why I enthusiastically support the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton. It protects more than 126,000 acres of new wilderness on the Olympic National Forest and 19 of the peninsula’s iconic rivers as “wild” and “scenic,” forever safeguarding old-growth forests and waterways from dams and development.

The legislation is a marvel of civic involvement, compromise and accommodation. In an unprecedented nod to local communities, the lawmakers conducted their multiyear public process almost exclusively within the four counties of the peninsula, giving everyday citizens a major voice in shaping the legislation.

The inclusive process brought former adversaries together. Backed by both conservationists and representatives of the timber industry, the plan provides permanent, durable protection for ancient forests and rivers while ensuring no timber jobs are lost.

It affects only areas on Olympic National Forest already off-limits to logging under current Forest Service rules, making these safeguards permanent. This compromise earned the endorsement of a Port Angeles timber company and praise for the process by a mill in Cosmopolis.

Miles of backcountry hiking trails, access to popular mountain-bike trails and river access were protected, earning support from outdoor businesses and recreation groups like American Whitewater, The Mountaineers and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.

Our congressional representatives collaborated with local sportsmen to ensure not a single mile of road was closed by the proposal. Those of us who rely on roads for access to the peninsula will still be able to drive to any place on the Olympic National Forest we can today.

As a result, 20 local and regional hunting and fishing organizations support Wild Olympics, including Washington Wildlife Federation, Washington Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Isaak Walton League and Trout Unlimited. It is backed by more than 200 Olympic and Kitsap Peninsula businesses, including Taylor Shellfish, and elected officials from both parties.

It’s time to focus on the values we have in common, including Washington’s priceless backcountry lands, and our wilderness.

The Wild Olympics legislation represents our common ground. It is my hope that it becomes law soon, as a gift to future generations.

Ralph Munro, a Republican, served as Washington secretary of state from 1980 to 2001.

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