SHELTON – Congressman Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray took their push for proposed wilderness legislation on the road last week.
Accompanied by elected officials from Jefferson and Clallam counties as well as the chairman of the Wild Olympics Campaign, they stopped Thursday at the Skookum Bay Taylor Shellfish facility in Shelton and toured nearby forest areas that would be affected by their proposed Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012.
Dicks, D-Belfair, and Murray, D-Bothell, introduced the legislation in June, roughly three years after conservation and recreation groups started the conversation to expand protection of areas around Olympic National Park.
The proposed legislation – a compromise proposal developed from the Wild Olympics Campaign – would designate more than 126,500 acres of new wilderness in Olympic National Forest.
Nineteen Olympic Peninsula rivers and their major tributaries would be designated "wild and scenic."
Murray and Dicks said they have made compromises to overcome objections that the designations would be too restrictive on logging.
The legislation would help to protect water quality, said Dicks, who is retiring this year after 18 terms representing the 6th Congressional District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
"We have challenges for water quality and we have been working on Hood Canal and Puget Sound for years," The (Aberdeen) Daily World newspaper quoted Dicks as saying on the banks of Skookum Bay at a stop at the Taylor Shellfish offices.
"You've got to protect these rivers, and this legislation would protect 19 rivers and seven tributaries.
"This is a jobs issue. Protecting shellfish is a jobs issue in Washington state."
Bill Taylor, the CEO of Taylor Shellfish, agreed.
"This helps ensure the water quality in the Olympic Region, and that is really critical for us," he said.
The last stop on the tour was the Olympic National Forest's 685-foot High Steel Bridge that rises 420 feet above the South Fork of the Skokomish River.
Wild Olympics Campaign Chairwoman Connie Gallant, who lives in Quilcene, said it was important to show off one of the rivers that would receive protections from the wild and scenic designation.
Gallant has said her group supports the Dicks-Murray plan.
Adding to legacy
Mike Doherty, a Clallam County commissioner, said that Dicks was adding to his "legacy to protect our rivers."
State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim – who represents the 24th District, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County – pledged his support for the Wild Olympics legislation Thursday, The Daily World said.
"There's nothing in the plan that will impact the mills across my district, and that's really important," Tharinger said.
A consistent complaint among opponents is that the Wild Olympics plan has been crafted to combat a threat that doesn't exist.
Asked if there was a mine or dam or a clearcut proposed at the headwaters of one of the rivers geared for protection, Murray replied: "The risk of not doing this leaves everything up in the air as to whether it will be logged.
"Then, when we want to preserve something, it will be too late."
Harvest, thinning goals
Dicks said that more can be done to reach harvest and thinning goals of the federal Northwest Forest Plan.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we can do more commercial thinning and raise those numbers somewhat," Dicks said.
"It's not in this legislation, but it's another issue that should be addressed.
"And I wish I had taken more time to try to figure out a way to get those numbers up a bit, but I think it will happen.
"And I think that will placate a lot of the concerns from the other side."
Tharinger also told Murray that if the Forest Service was allocated more revenue, then thinning operations would increase and, inevitably, more loggers would be put to work.
"I've heard that, too," Murray told Tharinger.
The proposed legislation – which has been referred to natural resource committees – is HR 5995, sponsored by Dicks and Congressman Jim McDermott of Seattle; and SB 3329, sponsored by Murray.
Murray – who has said she will continue pushing forward with the legislation after Dicks retires – said it was unlikely the bill would make it through either the House or Senate this year.