The son and grandson of Pacific County loggers, I was proud to take one of the abundant and comparatively well-paid jobs in the logging industry when I finished college. I wanted to stay close to home and, like my friends and family, I couldn't imagine working indoors. The work also gave me the opportunity to continue to enjoy the forests and streams I hiked, camped, hunted and fished in when I was a youngster.
Even when I left the coast to advance my corporate career, I carried a strong connection to this area. Nothing I saw rivaled the sheer scale, scenic beauty and wild character of the coastal forests and rivers. Fifteen years ago I joined some old friends and we decided to come back "home." Together, we founded Paneltech. Today, we employ more than 50 people in Grays Harbor County, and I am proud to say that we are a recognized leader in the environmentally responsible manufacturing of green composite products.
I am deeply committed to our community and our economic future, and I believe protecting our wild forest and river watersheds is vital to both.
Here on Grays Harbor, salmon sport fishing, clamming, bird watching, hiking, hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation have long been essential elements of our community culture and our local economic health. They are critical to attracting and retaining the highly skilled employees that promising, new technology-based companies like Paneltech, Cosmo Specialty Fibers and NewWood will require.
Upstream from most of us in Grays Harbor County are the publicly owned watersheds on the Olympic National Forest. These scenic forests and rivers are some of the last strongholds for native salmon and wildlife populations. They provide world-class hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation for both residents and visitors alike — folks who shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants and stay in our motels. These watersheds are natural filters that provide clean, silt-free water to local shellfish growers. They are vital to the long-term health of Grays Harbor itself — an estuarine bay that is a world-renowned refuge for migrating birds. Perhaps most importantly, these forests and rivers provide our children and grandchildren with one last opportunity to experience the ancient, old-growth timber my grandparents saw when they came to this area.
This is why I support the Wild Olympics Campaign. The campaign is building support and seeking community feedback on a draft proposal to protect and restore our region's most spectacular wild forest and river watersheds through new wilderness, wild and scenic rivers and willing-seller National Park designations. As they collect public input, the campaign continues to refine their draft proposal to be respectful of private property rights, the local timber economy and recreational access.
The draft proposal includes creating new wilderness areas on Olympic National Forest for such backcountry jewels as South Quinault Ridge and Moonlight Dome. This "gold standard" would provide permanent protection for these areas — most of which are already out of the timber base under existing forest service regulations — but would allow a wide range of backcountry recreation including hunting, fishing, camping, horsepacking and hiking. The campaign is working with local user groups and stakeholders to carefully draw the boundaries to avoid conflicts with access.
They are proposing Wild and Scenic River designations only for contiguous stretches of rivers on federal and state lands — no private lands are being considered in Grays Harbor County. These rivers include some of the Peninsula's iconic free-flowing rivers, like the Queets and the East and West Fork of the Humptulips. Such designation would prevent dams from being built on those stretches of rivers, while allowing fishing, swimming, paddling, rafting and other river-friendly recreational uses to continue. Currently, there is not a single Wild and Scenic River designated anywhere on the Peninsula.
The campaign is also suggesting a willing-seller Olympic National Park expansion or National Preserve designation for some watersheds in west Clallam and Jefferson counties, including lands above the narrow Queets corridor. This proposal would let the Park Service bid on these tracts of timber company and state-owned commercial forest land if they were ever offered for sale in the future, but would ensure that the park boundary would not change unless the landowners wanted it to. A National Preserve designation would assure both tribal and non-tribal hunting access and use for these areas in perpetuity.
Not only would the above designations provide permanent protections for our clean water, they would elevate the status of these special forests and rivers on local, state and national recreation maps, bolstering tourism and the services sector in our economy. The campaign will be scheduling a public workshop in Grays Harbor County in the coming weeks. I urge everyone to go to the website, look it over and give the campaign your feedback under the comments section at www.wildolympics.org. You will be helping to make a down payment on Grays Harbor's economic future.