By Derek Kilmer
Congressman, 6th District
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Stores closed. Families struggled.
To many — including me — these issues still pack an emotional punch because they involve the very fabric of where we live.
I reject the proposition that we must choose between economic growth and environmental protection.
As long as we define success in our region as a zero-sum game between those who want to protect our environment and those who want to create jobs, we'll be as dysfunctional as Washington, D.C.
That's why over the next month, I'll be introducing several bills aimed at creating jobs, protecting the environment and moving our region forward.
Among this agenda for the Olympic Peninsula is a bill I'm introducing with Sen. Patty Murray, the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014, that designates some of the most environmentally sensitive parts of our region so that they will be protected for future generations.
Over the past year, I've met with folks on all sides of this issue.
Leaders in our region's shellfish industry told me that protecting clean water helps them grow.
Entrepreneurs who started their businesses on the Peninsula because of the natural surroundings said the increased attention gained by a wilderness designation will drive others to invest, too.
I spoke with outfitters, guides and other small-business owners who believe that increased tourism in the area will allow them to hire new employees and spur other new businesses.
And of course I spoke with hundreds, if not thousands, of folks who just want to ensure that our children can enjoy the same natural wonders we do.
I also spoke to those concerned about an earlier version of this legislation.
At town-hall meetings in Aberdeen, Amanda Park, Sequim and Port Angeles, I heard concerns regarding the impacts of wilderness designations on the timber industry and whether the proposal would impede the ability of folks to enjoy our natural surroundings.
I take these concerns seriously.
After conversations with the Forest Service and timber industry, I'm convinced that nearly all Forest Service land proposed for wilderness would never be commercially harvested and that these designations won't harm the timber industry.
That said, I also understand the views of those concerned that more needs to be done to responsibly increase harvests in our federal forests.
That's why I brought industry and environmental leaders together to form a collaborative effort to explore ways we can accomplish these shared goals, and why I'm committed to being part of an ongoing discussion about how to balance priorities on federal lands over the long haul.
While Sen. Murray and [then] Rep. Norm Dicks revised their initial proposal to address some concerns including eliminating any [Olympic National] park expansion provisions, I've included additional provisions to respond to feedback I've heard.
For example, I included provisions to ensure that the designations won't impact access or the rights of private landowners to manage or use their land.
The bill explicitly doesn't allow “buffer zones” and doesn't allow the Forest Service to expand the wilderness area or river designations.
We've clarified that private landowners and the Forest Service can take action to stop dangerous fires, or address blight or infestation.
Finally, we've added provisions to ensure that the rights of tribal partners aren't diminished.
With these changes, I believe this legislation will protect the Peninsula's most sensitive lands and waters for future generations while protecting access to outdoor recreation and private landowners' rights.
I also believe further work must be done to ensure that the timber industry remains an important and successful part of our region's economy.
That's why I co-chair a bipartisan caucus in Congress to support growth opportunities in the timber industry.
It's why I've supported efforts to provide more regulatory certainty related to forest roads.
It's why I've gone to bat for local forest products firms grappling with trade barriers overseas.
And it's why we established a collaborative effort to identify a path to increased harvest in Olympic National Forest.
Motivated by my upbringing, I spent the past decade working in economic development.
It's clear that a one-legged economic stool doesn't stand.
Going back to the past isn't an option, and standing still means a slow decline.
It's time for an armistice on the battles of the past. It's time to move forward toward a more sustainable and stronger economy.
That's why I've released a plan for growing jobs on the Peninsula that includes several other bills to support economic development.
After more than a year of conversation, study and revisions, I'm hopeful that these efforts will be seen as a positive step forward.
However, I'm committed to continued conversation with those who have questions or concerns.
Introducing the [Wild Olympics] bill is just the first step in the legislative process.
There remain opportunities to amend and improve the proposal.
I hope you'll continue to share your thoughts with me on this important topic.
Derek Kilmer represents the 6th Congressional District that includes Clallam and Jefferson counties as well as the rest of the Olympic Peninsula.
He can be reached at 202-225-5916 or by emailing via www.kilmer.house.gov/contact.