I consider myself very fortunate to live in a place that I consider to be one of the few remaining "gems" of the United States: our Olympic Peninsula.
Many who call the peninsula home would agree that the lush beauty, crystal-clear rivers, fish, wildlife and incredible recreation opportunities make this place a unique paradise. From South Quinault Ridge with its 300-foot tall Douglas-firs, to the remote Lightning Peak with its elk and bear populations or the colorful wildflower-filled Mount Townsend, there are countless wonderful places for camping, backpacking, fishing, hunting and horseback ridings. Among my many favorites is the Deer Ridge Trail, near my home, from which you can catch glimpses of Puget Sound and the interior of the Olympic Mountains.
I have spent countless days exploring the peninsula and it concerns me that many of the one-of-a-kind natural treasures of this area are not permanently safeguarded. In fact, a large portion of the Deer Ridge Trail is located on nonprotected federal land.
The importance of the peninsula's land and rivers to my quality of life has persuaded me to become involved in the Wild Olympics Campaign, a community-based effort to protect our ancient forests and wild rivers from current and future threats. I now have been active in this campaign for more than two years by working at outreach drives, petitioning and working with the board of a local all-volunteer-based coalition group.
From the many hours I have spent speaking to residents outside of local businesses and farmers markets, I can say from personal experience that with the exception of a few cautious or nonsupportive individuals, the vast majority of those I have spoken with expressed wholehearted support for the campaign, asked good questions and added their names as backers of the proposal. In fact, more than 5,000 local residents have signed the petition to date. Each of these individuals has a strong interest in safeguarding more than 130,000 acres of the peninsula as wilderness, protecting 19 rivers and their major tributaries, and adding 20,000 acres to Olympic National Park as a national preserve through a willing-seller option.
Speaking one-on-one with literally thousands of people from all walks of life over the past two years – business owners, mill workers, sportsmen, families who take their children hiking and camping – has opened my eyes to the fact that I am not only working to protect my quality of life, but that of all peninsula residents. These individuals and families have offered largely positive and constructive comments that have shaped the drafting and re-drafting of the Wild Olympics proposal resulting in alterations, such as boundary changes, to meet the needs and wishes on the peninsula's diverse stakeholders and resource managers.
Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Norm Dicks deserve our thanks for taking this framework – the result of unprecedented community input – and moving it forward. They have continued community dialogue through more than a year and a half of their own stakeholder meetings and public forums, which has led to a well-balanced collaborative community-shaped plan. I applaud and encourage their efforts to bring a bill before Congress that will help restore what we have lost on the peninsula and protect what we have.
Once enacted, this plan will help local economies by maintaining the clean water and air that our communities depend on. It will ensure that the stunning landscapes remain a destination for visitors who help fuel our economy. It will permanently safeguard critical watershed for peninsula salmon, steelhead, elk and other fish and game, while protection and expanding access for sportsmen. Importantly, the plan will not impact active timber sales, and therefore, will not adversely affect jobs.
At the end of the day, it is a win-win for the residents of the Olympic Peninsula who are here today and for those who will live here in the future.
Lucas Hart is an active volunteer and a resident of the North Olympic Peninsula