U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray this week released a draft proposal that could result in big changes in the way the forests of the Olympic Peninsula are maintained and utilized.
If the proposal is enacted into law, roughly 130,000 acres of new wilderness would be added to the 90,000 acres of wilderness now within U.S. Forest Service lands on the peninsula. A wilderness designation for the acreage would remove the acreage from commercial use, including logging.
The proposal also calls for giving Olympic National Park authority to purchase up to 20,000 acres through a willing-buyer, willing-seller process, with the lands designated as a preserve. Preserves are protected from development, but tribal and non-tribal hunting and fishing would be allowed. The land likely would be managed to ensure the continuing presence of game animals.
Another 23 rivers within public land ownership would be protected as part of the nation’s Wild and Scenic River System.
The proposal has been prais-ed and criticiz-ed by those who live and work on the peninsula.
Dicks and Murray said the proposal is a response to a wilderness and national park expansion plan brought to Congress two years ago. The “Wild Olympics Campaign” is backed by dozens of conservation groups, public officials and conservation groups, including the North Olympic Group of the Sierra Club, the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and the Northwest Watershed Institute.
In their announcement, Dicks and Murray said their staffers conducted “extensive outreach on this proposal” in order to produce the new draft.
Tim McNulty, a Sequim author and vice president of Olympic Park Associates, called the initiative “a wonderful and rare opportunity to increase ecosystem protections to one of the great natural preserves of the planet.”
Advocates and critics will have an opportunity to speak about the plan during a series of four public workshops scheduled next month, including a 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, meeting at the Museum at the Carnegie, 207 S. Lincoln St. in Port Angeles.
Connie Gallant, chairman of the Wild Olympics Campaign, said her organization will “support the draft compromise proposal.”
She said while “the campaign has had to make concessions along the way ... to address different community needs and concerns,” in the end the new proposal would “provide permanent protection for the peninsula’s most priceless natural treasures: our towering ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, critical fish and wildlife habitat and our clean water.”
“Representative Dicks and Senator Murray’s draft plan offers a down payment on the peninsula’s economic future and a gift for generations to come,” Gallant said.
Carol Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee, disagrees, saying neither Dicks nor Murray has shown any interest in the job losses the new plan would cause.
“This is very similar to the proposal that the Wild Olympics group brought to Dicks, with some minor tweaks. There is less private land involved, but that has nothing to do with anybody listening to the timber consortium,” Johnson said.
The 38,000 acres (in the original Wild Olympics proposal) has been knocked down to 20,000, she said, because “the (Olympic) National Park was uncomfortable with it, not because of what we said.”
Johnson pulled no punches, saying, “It’s very damning to jobs here on the peninsula. It will reduce timber harvests — by its very nature it will restrict timber harvests.”
“We don’t have much harvest now,” she said.
Johnson also addressed the provision authorizing the park to buy additional land from willing buyers, saying it creates an untenable situation for those owners.
“Around Lake Ozette there are four main timberland owners. If I am one of the landowners out there, the line is already drawn for potential expansion. How many buyers other than the federal government do you think I’m going to get?”
Johnson also criticized assertions that the plan will be good for the local economy.
“How does taking private land out of private ownership and putting it into government hands put more money into the local economy?” she asked. “You lose part of the tax base for your county.”
By the people, for the people
Johnson also criticized the plan to transform 130,000 acres of managed forest into wilderness.
“Those forests are an asset of the people,” she said, “put aside to be managed for income.” She said the
new proposal “reduces the opportunity to use it for jobs.”
“The preservationists and many of our politicians do not want another tree cut,” Johnson said.
“This is a political process and has little to do with professional foresters or science.”