The Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful and amazing place, one that draws people here to work and raise their families while providing unparalleled opportunities to experience the outdoors. With the recent introduction of legislation to protect the precious ancient forests, wild rivers and stunning scenery that make the Peninsula so special, we are closer to being able to pass on this land and all it has to offer to our children and theirs.

Years of community conversation, compromise, and collaboration has resulted in a balanced measure now sponsored by Representative Derek Kilmer and Senator Patty Murray. The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 2014 will safeguard more than 126,000 acres of wilderness on Olympic National Forest, including the temperate rainforests of South Quinault Ridge, the cathedral old growth stands of the upper South Fork Skokomish and the accessible recreational opportunities in the Dungeness Valley. The bill will also designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as wild and scenic, sparing them from dams and safeguarding critical salmon habitat. This legislation is not about changing the way these lands and rivers are managed but making current Forest Service safeguards for these public lands permanent.

In developing this proposal, proponents hosted several hundred stakeholder meetings and community discussions and listened carefully to all the feedback we received. The compromise proposal was the result of an exhaustive, three-year public process including extensive local community input from Tribes, conservation groups, timber communities, business leaders, shellfish growers, farmers, local elected officials, hunters, anglers, mountain bikers, hikers, federal and state land managers and the general public. The proposal excludes all existing Forest Service system roads from proposed wilderness and preserves all access to trails resulting in a proposal that preserves and promotes outdoor recreation.

Wilderness boundaries were carefully drawn to ensure permanent protection of the best of Olympic Peninsula’s spectacular ancient forests that are currently not part of the timber base. Since the original proposal was introduced, Senator Murray, Representative Dicks and Representative Kilmer have removed 11,300 acres of timber base including second growth plantations from proposed wilderness.

Even opponents of the Wild Olympics concede (see “Wild Olympics, the Olympic National Forest and Family Wage Jobs,” Tuesday December 31, 2013) that due to these adjustments the legislation will not have a an impact on timber harvest or jobs on the Peninsula. In fact, many of the conservation organizations who have promoted the Wild Olympics have opened a dialogue, with Representative Kilmer’s leadership, with the timber community called the Olympic Peninsula Collaborative to see how we can increase the harvest rate in areas outside our proposal while benefiting the environmental quality of our forests and watersheds.

Support for preserving the Wild Olympics is broad and deep and continues to grow with over 10,000 local individual supporters. In addition, the legislation is endorsed by more than 470 local businesses and farms, conservation and recreation organizations, elected officials and religious leaders. Businesses like Taylor Shellfish benefit because protecting our rivers and streams is vital to the future of Washington’s fishing and shellfish industries. Shellfish growers support jobs for hundreds of area residents and provide an estimated $270 million economic impact statewide.

The legislation also enjoys strong support from the outdoor recreation community and is endorsed by local and regional outdoor recreation businesses and groups like Olympic Raft and Kayak, Sound Bikes and Kayak, The Mountaineers, Pacific Alpine Guides, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, and American Whitewater. Other businesses like Ocean Gold Seafoods, and more than 80 additional businesses in Grays Harbor County alone, know that our ancient forests and wild rivers represent an important amenity that provides employers with a competitive edge over other regions in attracting and retaining the talented people that create local jobs and grow the local economy. These stakeholders recognize that protecting the area’s natural treasures, which provide world-class outdoor recreation, clean water, and contribute to the area’s high quality of living just makes good business sense.

More than two dozen major hunting and fishing organizations and local guides, as well as more than 300 individual local sportsmen signed a petition to protect wilderness and wild & scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, including the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Izaak Walton League of America, Washington Wildlife Federation, Waters West Fly Fishing Outfitters of Port Angeles, and Grey Wolf Fly Fishing Club in Sequim. They support the proposal because the measure will not close roads nor affect any road or trailhead access, and safeguards and enhances river access, fishing and boating. It will also attract additional funding for restoration and recreation projects while protecting the investments we have already made.

Representative Kilmer and Senator Murray deserve our thanks for listening to their constituents from all backgrounds and interests and for working with the community to craft legislation that can ensure that what makes us want to call the Olympic Peninsula home will be here years into the future. Now it’s up to Congress to see this vision become a reality.
Connie Gallant is the volunteer chair of the Wild Olympics Campaign. She lives in Quilcene.