By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Asserting he is addressing that divide, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer on Tuesday announced the formation of the Olympic Peninsula Collaborative, 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 such diverse groups as the Wild Olympics Campaign, Simpson Lumber Co., the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and the American Forest Resource Council.
Kilmer made the announcement during a 30-minute telephonic news conference that included Matt Comisky of the American Forest Resource Council and Connie Gallant of Quilcene, chairwoman of the Wild Olympics Campaign and newly elected president of the Olympic Forest Coalition.
But neither Kilmer nor Gallant would discuss the potential fate of Wild Olympics legislation that has languished in Congress since June 21, 2012, when it was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray and then-Rep. Norm Dicks, Kilmer’s predecessor.
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, has not taken a stand on Wild Olympics in the 11 months he has been in office.
The proposed Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would ban logging on more than 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest by declaring it wilderness.
The measure is opposed by many in the forestry industry.
“[The Olympic Peninsula Collaborative] is a joint effort to make progress in Olympic National Forest on areas where the parties can agree,” Kilmer said.
“There is also broad agreement around our region that there is work that can be done within the confines of the Northwest Forest Plan.”
The group has not identified funding and has no specific potential projects yet.
The collaborative’s efforts will include different types of thinning projects to enhance and speed the transition from dense, second-growth stands into more complex, older-characteristic stands.
The goal is to restore natural forest ecosystems, including fish and wildlife habitat and surrounding ecosystems, Gallant said at the news conference.
The forest coalition and park-conservation group Olympic Park Associates “will be helping to craft and monitor these projects to ensure they follow the best available science and the Northwest Forest Plan,” Gallant and writer Tim McNulty, vice president of Olympic Park Associates, said in a joint statement.
Kilmer, a Port Angeles native whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, emphasized the importance of getting disparate interests to talk about forestry issues at the same table.
“It made sense to focus on areas where there is agreement to improve the health and the vitality of Olympic National Forest,” Kilmer said.
“We can do more and much stronger work on what we agree on rather than not.”
Kilmer would not identify any of those disagreements.
“How long do you have?” he quipped.
Said Gallant: “We have basically just opened the doors to talk, which is much better than we’ve had in the past.
“We don’t want to see a return of those wars by any means.”
Comisky said he expects the collaborative efforts will be long term and that he looks forward to improving the economic viability of the Olympic Peninsula.
A similar umbrella group is based in Colville and in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southern Washington, where the collaboration “has shown some success and is working forward on a lot of issues,” Comisky said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.