Port-sanctioned study sees job loss if Wild Olympics plan goes through

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Wild Olympics Campaign to add private lands to federal wilderness protection could cost Clallam and Jefferson counties as many as 72 jobs in the forest industry, according to an economic report released at Monday’s Port of Port Angeles commissioners’ meeting.

If the plan by an environmental coalition based in Seattle were fully implemented, losses could be as much as $3.5 million in wages, said Dan Underwood, who teaches economics and environmental science at Peninsula College.

“It’s eye-opening,” said Commissioner George Schoenfeldt of the report.

The port commissioners have stated that they will not support any plan that will cost jobs in the region.

“We see very clearly the potential cost to the wage base and job base,” said Commissioner Jim McEntire.

The Wild Olympics Campaign proposes a long-term series of purchases that could add 37,000 acres — mainly on the West End — to Olympic National Park, 450 miles of wild and scenic-designated rivers and 134,000 acres of other wilderness additions to the Olympic Peninsula.

According to the plan, parcels of land purchased under a “willing seller” agreement over the next 40 years could become additions to Olympic National Park and other wilderness designations with the approval of Congress.

Wild Olympics leadership is currently working to draft a bill to present to Congress for consideration.

In July, port commissioners ordered the $10,000 study to determine how a transfer of potentially thousands of acres of timber to Olympic National Park would affect the number of jobs available on the Olympic Peninsula.

The study released Monday indicated a possible loss of five forestry jobs by adding new wilderness areas, 12 jobs through new river designations, plus 11 in the Queets area and five in the Lake Crescent area.

The single largest potential loss of jobs would be in the Lake Ozette area, where 37 jobs could be threatened, said Jason Cross of the Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks who co-authored the study.

“The proposals have an adverse impact on production, wage and investment decisions,” Cross said.

In Clallam County, when comparing forestry to tourism-based jobs and secondary tourism-related jobs, only forestry job earnings averaged a living wage, Underwood said.

Some tourism-related jobs average a wage above poverty levels, but most direct tourism job wages remain below the poverty line, he said.

The difference is even more stark in Jefferson County, where Underwood said the tourism-related jobs also average lower than poverty wage.

The study did not include Grays Harbor or Mason counties, which would also be affected by the Wild Olympics proposal.

The full study will be available on the Port of Port Angeles website, www.portofpa.com, on Wednesday, commissioners said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 26. 2011 11:47PM
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