Chances dim in Congress for 'Wild Olympics' bill this year

By PAUL GOTTLIEB
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Chances are dimming that legislation aimed at designating 198 square miles of Olympic National Forest as wilderness — and thus off-limits to logging — will be considered by Congress this year.

The legislation, which also would protect 19 rivers by designating them wild and scenic, was introduced in the House and Senate in June and has yet to see the light of day at any hearings, congressional staffers said Thursday.

It may have to wait until next year before it's considered, a spokesman for the Senate sponsor, Patty Murray, D-Bothell, said.

The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012, which would ban logging on 126,500 acres of the national forest, was introduced by Murray and 6th Congressional District Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, whose district includes Clallam and Jefferson counties — and who is retiring at the end of the year.

The bill is co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle.

The bill was introduced in both chambers in June and sent to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Natural Resources in the House.

In the House, it was referred to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Crystal Feldman, a spokeswoman for the House Committee on Natural Resources, said Thursday.

Congress was in recess for most of August and part of September, and is in recess again until mid-November.

“There's been a lot of legislation submitted and a finite amount of time,” Feldman said.

The legislation, HR 5995, is one of more than 600 bills that were assigned this year to the committee, she said.

“To responsibly review and act on legislation, only a fraction of bills that are introduced are able to receive a hearing and take steps through Congress each year,” Feldman said.

George Behan, a Dicks spokesman, said the bill would have to move in the Senate first and that the House has not made it a top priority.

“The agenda has not been a real aggressive agenda on the House side,” he said.

Wilderness legislation typically takes “an extended effort” before passage, Murray spokesman Matt McAlvanah said Thursday.

But Murray has had difficulty ushering wilderness legislation through Congress, he said, adding that it may be something Congress will have to consider in 2013.

If it is not considered this year, “she is going to take the effort into the next Congress,” McAlvanah said.

“You have to be dogged,” he said.

GovTrack.US, an independent legislative tracking site, said the bill has a 1 percent chance of being enacted, considering the following factors: Dicks is a member of the minority party, and the House enacted only 4 percent of bills that were introduced in 2009-2010.

McAlvanah said public-lands bills such as SB 3329 usually are considered as one piece of legislation in omnibus form.

There are no omnibus bills that include the Wild Olympics on the legislative calendar for consideration this year, he added.

“It could happen before the end of the year; it could happen next year when it's reintroduced,” McAlvanah said.

“There are a number of players here in D.C. that have a say in these decisions.”

Connie Gallant of Quilcene, chair of the Wild Olympics Campaign, upon which the House and Senate legislation is based, said she is optimistic the legislation will be approved this year, citing “strong public support” from outdoors enthusiasts and businesses that depend on the natural resources protected by the bill.

“We are optimistic we can get it through in the seven weeks remaining in the session after the election,” she said.

Opponents say the bill limits the amount of working forests available for logging.

The Port Angeles Business Association opposes the legislation.

PABA President Dick Pilling said he's “delighted” the legislation may not be heard by Congress this year.

“I think that it's contrary to private property rights,” he said.

“I hope the Wild Olympics disappears entirely.”



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 27. 2012 7:23PM
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