PORT ANGELES – The City Council will consider taking a stand on congressional legislation that would designate 14 percent of Olympic National Forest as newly designated wilderness – and off-limits to logging.
The six council members decided Tuesday to take up the issue at their Nov. 20 meeting after 24 speakers said they favor the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012 and six said they were opposed in a hearing attended by about 100 people.
The Wild Olympics legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, whose 6th District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, was introduced in the House and Senate in June but has yet to receive a hearing in either chamber.
It would ban logging on 126,500 acres of 633,000-acre Olympic National Forest that are scattered on or near the border of Olympic National Park.
After Tuesday's packed, hourlong comment period ended, Councilman Max Mania said emails he had received showed overwhelming support for the proposal.
He said it was a compromise that "has taken a lot of things into consideration" and moved that the council adopt a resolution supporting it.
Deputy Mayor Brad Collins said he was not sure the council was the proper venue for taking action and added that he needed more time to review the proposal and its implications.
The council tabled Mania's motion 5-1, with Mania voting no.
The council then voted to continue the discussion to Nov. 20 on a 6-0 vote.
Councilman Dan Di Guilio was absent.
Mayor Cherie Kidd suggested the city take part in a joint study being conducted by the Port of Port Angeles and Clallam County on the potential for harvesting land within the national forest.
"That's the main focus of where I am interested in heading right now," Kidd said Wednesday in an interview.
County Commissioner Mike Chapman said Wednesday that the study by Olympus Consulting should be completed in November.
The Wild Olympics legislation would add 14 wilderness areas and designate 19 rivers and seven tributaries as wild and scenic, including portions of the Elwha, Dungeness, Big Quilcene and Dosewallips rivers.
It was based on a proposal by a consortium of environmental groups called Wild Olympics but is not identical to it.
The legislation became a City Council agenda item after forester and former Mayor Glenn Wiggins of Port Angeles offered to give the council information on the proposal at a previous meeting, prompting the council to schedule a public comment period for both opponents and proponents.
When Olympic National Park was created, national forest lands surrounding the park "were to perpetually benefit the counties and towns where these lands were located," Wiggins told council members.
"I've watched the erosion of these promises, particularly as it relates to the loss of jobs in the woods and mills, but to the tax receipts as well."
Wild Olympics Campaign Chair Connie Gallant said supporters were contacted to attend the meeting.
They came out in force, many wearing "Supporter Wild Olympics" stickers and far outnumbering those who agreed with Wiggins.
Robbie Mantooth of Port Angeles, a North Olympic Land Trust board member, noted that a controversial provision that would have allowed the park to absorb national forest land if the property were sold by willing sellers was eliminated from an earlier version of the proposal after objections from the timber industry.
The compromise, she said, "is one of the things that make it more worthy," Mantooth said.
Timber industry executive Norm Schaaf of Port Angeles said he had "vigorously opposed" the willing-buyer, willing-seller provision.
"When the most recent proposal came out from Dicks and Murray that removed [park] expansion, I told both I would support the proposal and still do," said Schaaf, vice president of timberlands and administration for Merrill & Ring, a North Olympic Peninsula timber and land-management company.
Writer and conservationist Tim McNulty of Sequim focused on popular hiking areas that would become protected as wilderness, including around the Dungeness River Trail and areas of Mount Townsend and Mount Ellinor.
"These places are iconic wildland destinations that draw visitors from throughout the Northwest," he said.
"The idea that preserving these lands for posterity, for recreation, clean water, salmon and wildlife habitat, is somehow a bad deal for the local economy is ill-considered at best."
Ron Farlee of Sequim, describing himself as a conservationist, said wilderness designation would limit the ability to restore 12,400 acres of former clearcuts that are now eligible for "restoration thinning."
In addition, 80,000 acres in the proposal are roadless and must be considered for wilderness, while 50,000 acres already are protected under the Northwest Forest Plan, he said.
"Complex land-management decisions can and should be considered through a thorough and very public [National Environmental Policy Act] process – the upcoming Forest Plan process to be conducted by the Forest Service," Farlee said.
Harry Bell, chief forester for the Port Angeles-based Green Crow Corp., a timberland and wood products company, spoke for the North Olympic Timber Action Committee in opposing the proposed legislation.
The legislation "does little to restore either the ecologic or economic benefits that we, who live here on the Olympic Peninsula, value," Bell said.
The Timber Action Committee, which is proposing the restoration of some working forests lost in the Northwest Forest Plan and the preservation of virgin forests identified in the Wilderness Act, wants "no net loss of working forest," he said.
Fellow-forester Schaaf said he was a "lone wolf" among his timber industry colleagues in supporting the proposal.
"There has been mutual respect," Schaaf said Wednesday.
"We all have different perspectives, we all listen to each other, and we all make decisions for our own reasons."
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.