By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014, introduced in Congress on Friday, would cut the amount of harvestable timberland, said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, in a statement.
He said it “would put an additional 125,000 acres of the Olympic National Forest off-limits to responsible timber management and other activities.”
“More importantly, it fails to address the pressing social and economic needs of rural, forested communities on the Peninsula,” Partin added.
The American Forest Resource Council includes Green Crow, Green Creek Wood Products and Interfor of Port Angeles as well as forest resource companies in Aberdeen and Elma.
“Over 100,000 acres of the Olympic National Forest is already designated as wilderness and is off-limits to responsible, multiple-use management, as is nearly 1 million acres within the Olympic National Park,” Partin said.
U.S. Rep Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, introduced identical versions of the Wild Olympics bill that would ban logging on 126,554 acres of the 633,000-acre Olympic National Forest.
Steve Courtney, regional timber procurement manager for Interfor, which operates a sawmill in west Port Angeles, said: “In general, we oppose anything that’s going to reduce the acres available for timber production.”
Carol Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Council — an industry group that opposes Wild Olympics — and Green Crow President Randy Johnson said they could not comment until they have studied the 27-page bill.
Kilmer said he is convinced the proposal will not have an impact on the national forest timber harvest.
Kilmer spokesman Stephen Carter said 99 percent of the land that would be set aside “can’t be harvested under the Northwest Forest Plan because it’s old-growth or protected.”
Wild Olympics legislation was originally introduced in 2012 by Murray and former U.S. Rep Norm Dicks, Kilmer’s 6th Congressional District predecessor.
The new version has several changes from the original bill.
Kilmer said Thursday that the main differences between the latest Wild Olympics legislation — HR 3922 and SB 1949 — and past versions are that wilderness designations will not result in additional road closures or affect private property rights, that they cannot be expanded administratively by the Forest Service and that the Forest Service’s ability to fight forest fires and insect infestations is not diminished.
Kilmer, a Port Angeles native, said the Wild Olympics bill “designates some of the most environmentally sensitive parts of our region so that they will be protected for future generations.
He added: “I also understand the views of those concerned that more needs to be done to responsibly increase harvests in our federal forests.”
Courtney said he appreciates Kilmer’s “efforts and thoughts he has around maintaining a viable timber industry on the Peninsula.”
Said Carter: “Increasing the timber harvest is something that Derek has been working on.
“He believes the timber industry is an important part of the economy. That’s why he started the Olympic Peninsula Collaborative.”
The collaborative is a group of 16 forestry and environmental groups whose goal is to increase the timber harvest in Olympic National Forest in an environmentally responsible manner.
Participants include the Wild Olympics Campaign, Simpson Lumber Co., the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society — and the American Forest Resource Council, which opposes Kilmer’s and Murray’s Wild Olympics legislation.
Wild Olympics Campaign Chairwoman Connie Gallant of Quilcene has said she was “thrilled” about the introduction of the bill, adding that it would benefit all.
Partin said the American Forest Resource Council supports a “balanced approach to meeting the economic, social and conservation needs of the Olympic Peninsula.”
“We cannot support piecemeal measures that fail to address the challenges facing our rural, forested communities,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.