Some of the tallest trees in the world grow in the rainforest on South Quinault Ridge. Massive Douglas fir and westem red cedars soar 300 feet into the sky, their trunks 60 feet around and covered in moss.
Proponents of the Wild Olympics Campaign hope to preserve the area as part of a proposed plan that would designate about 134,000 more acres of the Olympic National Forest--managed by the Forest Service--as "wilderness"areas, the strongest level of protection on federal lands.
The plan also would add the "Wild and Scenic" designation to 24 rivers and creeks on federal land on the Olympic Peninsula and would
authorize Olympic National Park to purchase properties in areas already identified in the park's long range expansion plan if and when
the current owners decide to sell.
Opponents criticize the proposal as a massive federal land grab and worry that it could restrict public use of the land and waterways and
force small landowners off their property as happened in past federal lands expansion of the peninsula.
"I want to keep it for generations to come." said Aberdeen Eagle Scout Levi Olden, who recently joined the campaign after hearing about it. "If there's more land (protected) there's more access."
The Wild Olympics Campaign has been working for more than two years to craft a proposal that provides the strongest possible protection for salmon habitat and clean water while accommodating concerns and requests from diversel local stakeholders, said Coalition spokesman
There is no current federal legislation pending. The proposal is in the draft stage, and proponents are in the processo f collecting
input.to create a plan palatable to most Owen said.
Opponents showed up at a meetings with state legislators in Montesano last week and at several public forums in recent weeks to voice their concerns about the proposal. Some urged county commissioners and city councils to oppose the plan.
Opponent Harold Brunstad decried the lack of involvement by the generapl public during the years the coalition has been meeting with federal legislators, Forest Service staff and other stakeholder groups. The plan would add another level of bureaucratic oversight that would hinder access without improving habitat he said.
In a letter to the editor in this week's Vidette, Brunstad outlines a historv of heavy-handed federal park and national forest expansion on the Olympic Peninsula.
Campaign proponents say they've structured their proposal so it in no way would permit the govemment to force property owners to sell their
land. Much of the proposal would make permanent protections that are aheady in place but that now could change as presidential
administrations change their priorities, Owen said.
"This is a way to protect and enhance existing access and to elevate the status of (the areas), placing them on state and "national
recreation maps," he said.
The coalition says it has received more than 1,500 letters of support. Coalition members include Olympic Park Associates; Olympic Forest Coalition; Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society; Norlh Olympic Group - Siena Club; Washington Wilderness Coalition; the Mountaineers; Campaign for America's Wildemess, Pew Environment Group, Sierra Club. American Rivers and American Whitewater.
Some of the feedback--including Brunstad's--already has been incorporated in to the current proposal, Owen said. For example, the coalition's website states that the campaign began with a draft potential area map highlighting 160,000 acres of possible wilderness, 86,000 acres of possible willing-seller park additions and more than 550 miles of possible Wild and Scenic Rivers. That wass scaled back to the the boundaries in the current draft, which contain 134,000 acres of wilderness, 37.000 acres of park additions, and 400 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Forest Service lands designated for upcoming logging operations were removed as were National Forest lands currently used by mountain bikers, for example, Owen said. The Wild and Scenic destination on the riven encourages tourism and would allow current fishing and boating practices to continue, while adding greater protections to the rivers, Owen said.
Washington has just six rivers with the designation, compared to 70 in Oregon. The designation puts the rivers higher on the list for federal habitat restoration projects, which improves he quality of the outdoor recreation experience, he said.
Former Grays Harbor Commissioner Al Carler who currently is coordinating outreach efforts for the campaign, said water is vital for the furure.
"There are issues that need to be discussed," he said,"We want more public input and public discussion."
When: noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 12
Where: Grays Harbor College HUB' 1620 Edward P. Smith Drive, Aberdeen
What: Wild Olympics Campaign representatives will be on hand with maps, photos and information to answer questions and take public feedback about their proposed wildemess conservationp plan. More information: www.wildolympics.org