By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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QUILCENE — Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer visited Jefferson County on Thursday to thank supporters of Wild Olympics legislation they are sponsoring in the Senate and House — even though their proposals likely won't be addressed this year, they said.
“Having worked on proposals like this before, it's going to take us educating a lot of other members of Congress about the need for this and working through the committee process — and that's not easy these days,” said Murray, D-Seattle.
“But I have learned in my lifetime that if you are persistent, believe in something and have a lot of people with you and behind you, you can get things done.”
The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014 was introduced in Congress in January, with Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Murray sponsoring identical versions of the bill in their respective chambers.
If passed, it would ban logging on 126,554 acres of the 633,000-acre Olympic National Forest.
It also would designate 19 rivers and seven tributaries in Olympic National Forest, in Olympic National Park and on state Department of Natural Resources land as wild and scenic.
“With the upcoming election, it will be very hard to address it this year, but I worked on [the establishment of the] Wild Sky [wilderness area in Snohomish County] for nine years before I got it passed,” Murray said.
Murray pledged that if control of the Senate changes from Democrats to Republicans, she would still push the bill.
“If that happens, we will work in different ways,” she said.
“I will work with the chairman of the committee no matter who it is to get the bipartisan support that it's going to take to pass this.”
Those opposing the Wild Olympics legislation would change their position if some allowances were made, a representative of a timber trade group said Thursday when asked to comment after Murray's and Kilmer's tour.
Carol Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Council, said her group has come up with an alternative to develop “a sustainable harvest model” on 150,000 acres within the boundaries of Olympic National Forest.
She also said her group could support the legislation as long as it did not include private lands.
“We have invited Sen. Murray to come out and have a look at our alternative, but she hasn't responded,” Johnson said.
“Rep. Kilmer has said he's open to taking this 'field trip,' but we haven't been able to schedule it yet.”
An eight-car caravan that included Murray, Kilmer, three reporters and several staff members drove about 8 miles to a site on the Big Quilcene River, hiking about 50 yards to a scenic alcove, on Thursday.
“Being here, I am reminded why we have worked so hard,” Murray said.
“We have these magical treasures in our backyard, and if we do the right thing today, it will be preserved for generations to come.”
Kilmer, a Port Angeles native, agreed.
“When I stand here, I see not only a postcard-perfect picture, I see a legacy that we need to maintain for our kids.
“What excites me the most is that this trail has led to a proposal that demonstrates that the idea of preserving environmentally sensitive areas and growing economic prosperity and growing jobs are not mutually exclusive.”
After their visit to the river site, the entourage returned to the Timberhouse Restaurant in Quilcene to address about 50 supporters of the bill.
“It is never easy to put together a proposal like this that impacts a lot of businesses and communities,” Murray said.
“But everyone has put their differences aside to reach the goal that we all share, which is to make sure we preserve the beautiful history and geography and pristine areas for the future.”
The preservation of the area would bring in tourism and business, according to supporter Morgan Colonel, owner and operator of Olympic Raft and Kayak in Port Angeles.
“Businesses like mine depend on access to the high-quality natural resources that the Olympic Peninsula is known for. Protecting our resources through the Wild Olympics bill is an investment in our region's economic future and the smart thing to do,” he said.
Port Townsend City Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval said the preservation of the wilderness will help the area grow while maintaining its special qualities.
“Many of the great businesses who locate in Port Townsend could be anywhere, but we have a higher percentage of entrepreneurs here because of the quality of life, which we need to preserve in order to keep the economy moving,” she said.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.