By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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“My concern with these processes is, once you get to this stage, the train has left the station,” Commissioner John Calhoun said Tuesday.
Commissioners will review the proposed letter at their next regular meeting April 22.
A public comment period on the proposal ends May 17. Comments will be used to create a draft environmental impact statement.
The plan offers four alternatives:
■ Take no action.
■ Reduce the human imprint in ways that would include establishing quotas for overnight use and requiring human waste bags above 3,500 feet.
■ Emphasize the protection of natural resources.
■ Provide visitors with a greater range of wilderness experiences.
“The key is for the plan to review human impacts on the wilderness,” port Environmental Specialist Jesse Waknitz told commissioners.
The goal of the plan, he added, “is to restore, protect and enhance [the] overall wilderness character of the Olympic wilderness.”
The three alternatives that would require action “are very similar,” Waknitz said.
“They all have language about quotas and use limits throughout the wilderness.”
All three commissioners expressed concern over the impacts on tourism.
Not that an expression of those concerns will have any impact on what’s decided, Calhoun suggested.
“This is a classic conflict between what I call communities of place like Port Angeles, Forks and Shelton versus communities of interest, which is very broad nationally,” he said.
“Communities of place have the least influence on the decision.
“Most of these environmental issues are taken up in that context.
“In this instance, the economic interests ought to be expressed by this commission.”
All but the no-action alternative will have a negative impact on the tourist industry, Calhoun said.
“It’s clear that Olympic National Park is the economic driver of the tourism industry,” he said.
“I would prefer a different alternative,” he added, describing his idea as “maintaining the wilderness character but creatively increasing the opportunity for people to enjoy that wilderness experience.
“These alternatives do not satisfy me. I think we deserve better,” Calhoun continued.
“The idea of having a wilderness that is not managed by man is just crazy.”
Board President Jim Hallett said officials involved in drawing up the plan have a responsibility to document its economic impacts “and not just guess.”
Commissioner Colleen McAleer said the port exists to foster economic prosperity.
“It makes sense that we make a statement on how any action they take should address the economic impact to this community of place,” she said.
National Park Service officials should not only address the economic impacts but should consider those impacts as part of the final decision on which plan is implemented, McAleer added.
In his presentation on the plan, Waknitz said the park attracted 3 million visits in 2013, with some 40,000 overnight camping stays.
Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes has said that the park counts visits, not visitors.
The number of visits is based on traffic counters at each of the entrance roads, Maynes has said, adding that park officials have no way of knowing how many individuals visit the park.
The final park wilderness plan, expected to be put into effect in late 2015, will guide management of most of the 922,650-acre park for the next 15 to 20 years.
After the draft environmental impact statement is released, another public comment period will be set at the end of this year or the start of next year.
The final document is to be released in the spring or summer of 2015. A record of the decision is expected in fall 2015, with the plan implemented soon after.
The stewardship plan was drawn up to meet the requirements of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
In 1988, Congress designated 95 percent of the park — 876,669 acres — as wilderness.
The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as a place “where the forces of nature predominate and the imprint of man’s work is substantially unnoticeable; which provides outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”
More details of the plan can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-stewardship.
Comments can be made online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/olymwild.
They also can be mailed to Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum, Attn: WSP Preliminary Draft Alternatives, Olympic National Park, 600 E. Park Ave., Port Angeles, WA 98362.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.