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Wild Olympics says plan won't cut jobs; loggers disagree

PORT ANGELES - A new analysis commissioned by the Wild Olympics Campaign has concluded that proposed legislation to declare as wilderness 198 square miles of Olympic National Forest would have a negligible effect on logging and would not cause job losses.

But the North Olympic Peninsula Timber Action Committee remains opposed to the plan, Executive Director Carol Johnson said Thursday, offering the organization's own plans for allowing more aggressive logging in the national forest.

The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012 - introduced by retiring U.S. 6th Congressional District Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell - is a pared-down version of a proposal originally introduced by the Wild Olympics Campaign.

Dicks' district includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.

The newer proposal would eliminate 1,742 acres of the park's timber base - about eight-tenths of a percent of the total base - assuming that ground, cable and helicopter yarding is used, Derek Churchill of Stewardship Forestry Consulting of Seattle said in the $1,500 report.

But more land is available for commercial harvesting than is now harvested, he said.

"The Olympic National Forest could significantly increase the current rate of harvesting by focusing on suitable acres outside of the proposed wilderness for the next 50 years," Churchill said in the report.

"The proposed wilderness within the Wild Olympics legislation will not limit timber supply under the current management policy framework, and thus should not result in reduced harvesting or timber jobs."

The legislation would designate 126,544 acres as new wilderness, set aside 5,346 additional acres that could be designated as wilderness in the future and name 19 rivers and seven tributaries as wild and scenic.

Churchill's report, released Tuesday, updates his previous study on the earlier Wild Olympic proposal, which would have set aside 132,000 acres as wilderness.

It also would have allowed Olympic National Park to absorb private land under willing-seller, willing-buyer arrangements.

The willing-seller, willing-buyer provision also was removed in the newer version.

"What stands out to me is that the Olympic National Forest has thousands of acres that could be harvested, and the wilderness proposal removes a tiny fraction of the available acres," Churchill said Thursday.

"Thus, it's just not going to impact the timber coming off the forest and the jobs associated with that."

Proponents have said virtually all the land is not loggable because of forestry restrictions and location.

"We certainly feel good about it," Wild Olympics organizer Connie Gallant said Thursday about the study.

"This is very positive, and I think it really lays it out pretty well that the loss of any jobs is pretty much minimized if not altogether eliminated."

The acreage is on or near the border of Olympic National Park.

There are currently 1,500 to 2,000 acres a year that are commercially thinned in Olympic National Forest, Michael Hutchins, Olympic National Forest's natural resource staff officer, said Thursday.

But Johnson said that as a condition for favoring the legislation, the North Olympic Peninsula Timber Action Committee - known as NOTAC - wants roughly the same volume of land that would be affected by the proposal - 126,544 acres - to be set aside in the 633,000-acre Olympic National Forest for more aggressive "matrix" logging, including limited clearcutting, which is not now allowed in the national forest under the Northwest Forest Plan, which governs forestry practices in Olympic National Forest.

The Northwest Forest Plan would have to be amended or revised to allow matrix logging, Hutchins said.

Johnson said logging interests have tried working with Wild Olympics for two years on a compromise.

"What our proposal has been since Day 1 is that we agreed to work with the proponents on giving up areas of wilderness where we obviously know we cannot harvest," Johnson said.

"In return, we wanted equal acres back as matrix-type harvestable lands that we could count on for as a sustainable harvest in perpetuity."

Matrix logging can include clearcutting, or regeneration harvests, which allow trees to remain and continue generating revenue, said Harry Bell, chief forester at Green Crow Corp., a Port Angeles-based timber lands management company.

Bell said modern-day methods of clearcutting do not denude land like the practice once did.

Johnson said NOTAC was still determining the geographic areas it would propose for more aggressive timber management.

"This would open up lands that we have proposed to a more commercial type of harvest, where there would actually be an economic component of harvesting," Johnson said.

"It would be harvesting more trees instead of selecting a tree here and there," she said.

"You can leave certain trees on a landscape and have a commercial harvest."

Gallant said she hasn't seen the details of NOTAC's proposal.

"They really need to make such proposals and presentations to us, to the environmental community, since we did the same with them," she said.

The Port of Port Angeles, Clallam County and city of Forks also have hired Malus Partners, a Sequim consulting firm, and Olympus Consulting of Port Angeles to conduct a $24,000 economic impact study of the Dicks-Murray legislation.

The study should be completed by the end of November or beginning of December, Port Executive Director Jeff Robb said Thursday.

Robb said the port is "encouraged a little bit" by Churchill's assertion that there are abundant, untapped harvest opportunities in Olympic National Forest that lie outside the proposed wilderness areas.

"That statement is exactly what we are trying to look at as part of our study: looking at potential impacts, if any, and then opportunities," Robb said.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.