After three years of work, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks say the compromise "Wild Olympics" bill they filed in June will suit the interests of pretty much everyone, from the hard-core environmentalists to the timber industry.
The two gathered with others at the Taylor Shellfish Works on Skookum Bay on Thursday, Aug. 16, to discuss the bill's contents and to promote its passage.
Also on hand were Washington Rep. Steve Tharinger and Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty, who both expressed their support of the bill.
The proposed law has long been controversial, with "Working Forests = Working Families" signs popping up across the region in opposition to the "draft proposal" released by Murray and Dicks in November 2011.
The most controversial section of the original proposal would have given Olympic National Park authority to purchase up to 20,000 acres through a willing-buyer, willing-seller process, with the purchased lands designated as a preserve.
Preserves are protected from development, but tribal and non-tribal hunting and fishing are allowed.
Murray said, "After consulting with the timber industry, we decided to alter the original proposal by eliminating national park expansion and carefully drawing the wilderness boundaries to exclude potentially harvestable timber. As a result of this compromise the legislation does not impact the peninsula's timber base."
Dicks said he still doesn't understand why the willing-selling, willing-buyer provisions were controversial but agreed that removing them has made the bill much more amenable to those in the timber industry. "It's a compromise package that all reasonable people can support," he said.
Officials speak up
Doherty agreed, saying he approved of the way the new bill responds to the timber industry's concerns, noting that "a few of the companies have bought into" the new legislation.
"We need timber to support timber jobs and we also need to protect our ancient forests and wild rivers to support other important sectors in our economy. This proposal allows us to have both," he said. "I stand with them in full support of this landmark legislation."
Tharinger noted the initial opposition from the forestry industry, but added that with the changes, "There's nothing in this legislation that's going to impact the forestry industry."
Tharinger said despite the tough economic times on the peninsula, "There are still bright spots in our economy."
In the past 10 years 5,000 new jobs have been created, he said, "largely family wage jobs in the professional services sector … ."
Tharinger said the additional wilderness areas will help boost the peninsula's appeal:"The fact that the peninsula has these amenities is a great recruiting tool."
"New residents are … drawn to our high quality of life centered around our public lands," he said, adding that the compromise bill represents "a win-win."
Not so fast
Others aren't so sure.
Carol Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee, said she hasn't seen the details of the new bill, but added that the removal of the "willing-buyer, willing-seller" provisions were likely the result of pressure applied by Olympic National Park rather than timber interests. "The park was uncomfortable going that far," she said. "I'm not giving the politicians any credit."
She also said her organization has come up with new plans for the area, including additional harvests. "We're not getting enough off of our forest lands," she said. "It's bad for the economy and for the health of the forests."
Johnson added, "We're still the only forest without clear-cutting. That's still an issue."
State Sen. Jim Hargrove also was blunt in his opposition, saying, "Grays Harbor has 15-percent unemployment. We need more forestland in multiple use status, not just more wilderness, so I am still opposed."
If the bill is enacted, roughly 126,000 acres of new wilderness would be added to the 90,000 acres of wilderness now within U.S. Forest Service lands on the peninsula. A wilderness designation would remove the acreage from commercial use, including logging.
The plan also would designate as "wild and scenic" 19 rivers and seven tributaries on state or federal lands.
The plan was first proposed by a coalition of peninsula conservation organizations. Dicks and Murray's plan is less ambitious in scope than the original Wild Olympics proposal, but critics and supporters agree it would have a large impact on the way the forests of the Olympic Peninsula are maintained and utilized.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.