Fishing in the Pacific Northwest is a multi-billion dollar industry supporting around 36,000 full-time, family-wage jobs catching, canning, processing, and selling some of the highest quality fish in the world. Jobs are also created by spending on boats, related fishing gear, and travel expenses in and around river and coastal communities. Many of these jobs are at risk if we fail to adopt the Wild Olympics proposal. The proposal has two main goals. First, it protects our salmon and fishing industry and the thousands of associated jobs. Second, it protects the recreation and tourism industry by ensuring our right to camp, hunt, fish, raft, hike, and ride horses in some of the most scenic parts of the Olympic Peninsula.
Currently, the fishing and tourism industries are under assault from those wishing to destroy protected salmon spawning grounds (the lifeblood of our local fishing industry) to build more dams and to begin logging vulnerable upstream areas. Logging these areas would destroy the natural nurseries where most of our Northwest salmon are born. Many of our most majestic and pristine recreational areas would also be forever destroyed, causing thousands of hard working people in our community to lose their jobs. Currently, no dams are being built and logging is not allowed in these critical lands along the rivers. Some misled individuals are working to change the protected status. Opposition to the Wild Olympics proposal is being driven by widespread misinformation being circulated on this issue.
Certain opponents of the Wild Olympics proposal have been terribly dishonest. Some have called it a "$900 Million Land Grab" that raises taxes and forces landowners to sell their land. In reality, the plan does not raise taxes, only involves people who are trying to sell their land (no forced sales), and would only spend a few million dollars (none of which comes from taxpayers). All of the money for the proposal comes from the Federal Land and Water Conservation fund which is entirely funded by royalties from the Oil and Gas Industry (the plan does not change the royalty rates either).
The plan gives some upstream rivers, many that are home to the best salmon spawning grounds on the planet, a Wild and Scenic River designation. The designation would block future attempts to build dams. It also ensures federal protection of recreational access to these rivers. This will ultimately block future attempts by anti-recreation people in state government or private industry to restrict our access. Camping, boating, rafting, fishing and hunting in and along these rivers would be permanently protected under the Wild Olympics proposal. With this plan, we can feel confident that our children will be able to bring their children and grandchildren out to these areas to enjoy their pristine beauty and abundant fish and wildlife.
The plan also converts some national forest, mainly along these salmon spawning rivers, into designated Wilderness Areas. Contrary to what opponents have argued, the National Forest lands in question are not open to logging under existing policy. The designation will not reduce current logging. Rather, the Wild Olympics proposal would make the current protections permanent. Under current law, a future president could open these small yet critically sensitive areas along the upstream rivers to logging. This would destroy our salmon industry, tourism industry, and the many recreational uses for this land. These uses are essential to our way of life. The designation as a Wilderness Area makes permanent the protection of our right to camp, hike, hunt and ride horseback with our friends and families. This is why some of the strongest supporters of the proposal are outdoor recreational groups like The Mountaineers and American Whitewater.
We should not risk the long-term viability of Washington state's salmon industry, the thousands of associated jobs and the wide ranging recreational uses of these breathtaking lands for future generations. One season of limited timber jobs, at some unknown time in the future, does not outweigh the risk. The rivers running through the Olympic Peninsula are a national treasure and an economic godsend that we are lucky to have in our backyard. Even though the timber industry is hungry, one good meal is not worth killing the Golden Goose.
Chris Crew is a resident of McCleary