GUEST OPINION COLUMN — We deserve better from Olympic National Park's Wilderness Stewardship Plan

By John M. Calhoun

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK currently is conducting a series of public meetings in communities around the park and in Seattle seeking public comment on the preliminary draft alternatives for ONP's Wilderness Stewardship Plan.

This is important because it is well understood that ONP is the No. 1 reason tourists come to the Olympic Peninsula.

I suspect local festivals come in second, but collectively, they are dwarfed by the millions who come here to see the park.

Policies adopted in this planning process will strongly influence the trends in numbers of visitors to ONP and to the communities on the Olympic Peninsula.

Tourism is an important part of a diverse economy on the Olympic Peninsula.

Recent stories in the Peninsula Daily News note that nearly $1 million per year is dedicated to enhancing tourism in Clallam County.

This is just the public tax money.

It does not include additional sums of private money spent to promote tourism here.

Yet frustration remains over the lack of growth in this economic sector.

Witness the questions being raised by local business groups in the Port Angeles area as they explore ways to focus the scattered efforts of hundreds of volunteers carrying out overlapping missions in multiple organizations.

They ask: “Why can't we get better results from this public spending?”

The preliminary draft alternatives offered by ONP are bad news for those working to enhance tourism on the Olympic Peninsula.

They offer nothing but the false choice between encouraging visitors to the park and saving the wilderness from the influence of mankind.

The four alternatives provided include Option A — the “no change” alternative, which, according to public statements by park representatives, they do not intend to adopt.

Three additional alternatives (B through D) are each progressively designed to reduce the number of people who can access the park and its wilderness zones.

While the vast majority of park visitors never visit the designated wilderness areas, the anti-human policies embedded in these alternatives will certainly send the message that people are not welcome.

A pushback of human influence from wilderness areas will reduce opportunities for people to enjoy wilderness or near-wilderness experiences.

Ultimately, the very essence of the Olympic National Park experience will be shielded from visitors, and tourist numbers will decline.

We deserve better.

It does not have to be this way.

Why not adopt a policy with twin objectives: maintain park wilderness and increase the number of opportunities for people to visit and experience the park?

If this were an alternative and adopted, the park managers could devise strategies to accommodate more park visitors while protecting the very reason people from all over the world come to the Olympic Peninsula.

Many national parks are dealing successfully with the apparent but false conflict between increased visitation and wilderness protection.

They include Zion, Grand Canyon and Denali national parks.

The preliminary draft alternatives provided for comment are based upon the philosophical value that sees humans as incompatible with natural areas — that is, exclude humans for its own sake, not associated with impacts to ecological function, external human influences such as climate change or impacts to scenic beauty.

Not all Americans share this value.

Some believe that it is impossible to “protect” areas from any human influence, direct or indirect, and that the value of human interaction with undeveloped lands is an important opportunity that should not be abridged in our public parks.

National parks are a treasure of all Americans for all Americans — not just for those who claim moral rectitude of a certain philosophical value.

One cannot escape the irony of Clallam County civic organizations seeking desperately to increase the effectiveness of tourism promotional efforts, while at the same time the Olympic National Park quietly moves through the motions of collecting public comment on carefully crafted management alternatives destined to reduce numbers of visitors to our communities.

John M. Calhoun, a Forks resident, is a Port of Port Angeles commissioner and former Olympic regional manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.

He holds a bachelor's degree in forest management from Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.

For more about ONP's Wilderness Stewardship Plan, click on:

Last modified: March 22. 2014 10:19PM
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