PORT ANGELES – In a major concession to the forest industry, the Wild Olympics Campaign is accepting the elimination of a "willing-buyer, willing-seller" provision of a land and scenic preservation plan – originally generated by the group – that would have allowed privately owned land to be absorbed into Olympic National Park, group organizer Connie Gallant of Quilcene said.

"It is a big deal," Gallant said of the proposal by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, a Belfair Democrat whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.

"We were really hoping that it would go through, and it didn't, but we're very, very happy that the Murray-Dicks version did not really change much in the wilderness and scenic rivers" provisions of the plan, she said.

Under the willing-seller, willing-buyer arrangement, the 922,000-acre park – 1,440 square miles – could have purchased up to 20,000 acres, or 30 square miles, of privately owned land outside the park only if a land owner was willing to sell it.

It would have allowed the nation's 13th largest national park to skirt the current legal requirement that the park can now expand its borders only by an act of Congress.

The provision was at the heart of a similar proposal by Wild Olympics on which the Dicks-Murray plan is based, Gallant said.

Now, the Wild Olympics plan is "pretty much off the table," she said.

"We have to accept what they have put forth. We don't know whether there's any room down the road for any additional concessions, but as it stands now, we're happy with their proposal."

Dicks' aide Sara Crumb announced the provision's demise as part of the Murray-Dicks plan Thursday at the 2012 Washington State Society of American Foresters' annual meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles.

In an interview at the conference, she said the revised plan should be drafted as legislation and go before Congress by the end of the year.

Dicks is retiring from office this year after 18 terms.

The Dicks-Murray proposal is similar to the Wild Olympics proposal in the following ways:

■   It designates as wilderness 130,000 acres of Olympic National Forest – 200 square miles – that encircle the park, which would make trees on that acreage unharvestable.

■   It designates 23 river systems within the park and the national forest as "wild and scenic," which allows recreational uses to continue and protects the river systems through voluntary stewardship and federal, state, local and tribal regulations.

"Those two components are equally important," Gallant said of the remaining provisions.

"When I say the park addition was at the heart, it was kind of the driving force for us, but the other two components are at the same level."

Elimination of the willing-seller, willing-buyer provision from the Dicks-Murray proposal was a big enough deal to Norm Schaaf, vice president of Merrill & Ring, a North Olympic Peninsula timber and land management company, that Schaaf publicly announced his support of the revised plan at the conference.

"Personally, I can support this," he said in an interview.

The willing-buyer, willing-seller plan "would have created expectations in customers that there could be reductions in valuable forest timber supply," Schaaf said.

He praised Murray and Dicks "for considering the concerns we brought forward and for coming up with what we believe is a reasonable compromise solution."

Three timber companies – Green Crow Corp., Rayonier Inc. and Merrill & Ring Inc. – were the major private landowners affected by the willing-buyer, willing-seller proposal.

"We are trying to grow our land base," Schaaf said.

"Merrill & Ring is trying to expand, not shrink."

Schaaf added that the acreage that would be designated as wilderness and taken out of timber production "would not have any significant reduction in timber harvest from what it is currently."

Wild Olympics Coalition member Jim Gift of Sequim, the conservation chair for the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and a panel member at the foresters' conference, said in an interview that he expects some coalition members will be disappointed at the concession.

"The way we approached it is, [the preservation plan] should not be a threat to the timber industry," Gift said.

Carol Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee, which opposed the Wild Olympics plan, said the willing-buyer, willing-seller provision "was a huge issue" for the North Olympic Peninsula timber industry.

Johnson would not comment on whether its elimination was enough to make the Timber Action Committee support the Murray-Dicks proposal because she had not read it, she said.

Elimination of the willing-buyer, willing-seller provision means Olympic National Park must rely on an act of Congress if it is to expand its boundaries but can still utilize that process for purchasing private property within park boundaries, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Friday.

She could not comment on the provision's elimination from the Dicks-Murray proposal because she hadn't reviewed it, she said.

"Our standing policy is that the park only acquires land through a willing-seller, willing-buyer arrangement," Maynes added.

"That's been our policy for many years."


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.