Port of Port Angeles seeks new possibility for Olympic National Park wilderness plan; says area tourism would suffer

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles commissioners have approved a letter to Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum saying that they don't support any of the possible options that have been presented for the Wilderness Stewardship Plan.

The commissioners said all the preliminary alternatives the park has proposed would reduce visitor access to the park and damage the area's economy.

Access should be increased, they said in a one-page correspondence they unanimously approved Tuesday at their regular meeting.

“The Wilderness Stewardship Plan preliminary draft alternatives reduce access, which will result in lower visitor numbers and reduce the economic benefits they generate,” commissioners said in the letter.

Trails and unpaved road systems should be improved, they said.

The National Park Service should change one of the four preliminary alternatives to “increase visitor access through a clear and implementable strategy,” they said in the letter.

“Our success at continuing the port's mission and the well-being of the communities we call home is directly related to the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue park visitors support each year.”

The intent of the alternatives is not to increase or decrease visitor access but to protect, restore and enhance the park's “wilderness character,” park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Wednesday.

She said she had not read the commissioners' letter but that the stewardship plan's alternatives could change.

“We don't have a [Wilderness Stewardship] Plan yet,” she said.

“We want to be able to benefit from the public comments, and that's what we are doing now.”

The park released preliminary alternatives earlier this year, asking the public to mix and match elements of all four and make suggestions before a draft environmental impact statement is prepared.

The public comment period on the preliminary alternatives ends May 17.

Olympic National Park consists of 922,651 acres, 95 percent of which is wilderness.

By law, stewardship plan alternatives for managing that wilderness must include one that is simply the continuation of current management practices.

The other three preliminary alternatives, according to the park's March 2014 “Wilderness Stewardship Plan — Preliminary Draft Alternative Newsletter,” would employ strategies that include emphasis on:

■   Reducing “the human imprint” on wilderness areas by reducing the “extent of developments provided within wilderness.”

■   Protecting natural resources through ecosystem restoration, employ management actions such as the removal of non-native species and “provide more opportunities for solitude due to the implementation of visitor use management strategies for resource protection.”

“Human waste bags would be required in the subalpine and above,” and all wilderness users would be required to carry bear cans, according to the newsletter.

■   Management of visitor use and recreation to provide a greater range of wilderness experiences by reducing visitor numbers in heavily visited areas and imposing quotas-use limits for overnight and day use throughout the wilderness.

“Very few new facilities would be provided,” according to the newsletter.

“This alternative also would consider the use of pack goats.”

The newsletter is available at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-newsletter.

According to a winter 2013 newsletter on the plan, “the plan's over arching goal is to restore, protect, and enhance overall wilderness character of the Olympic Wilderness.”

The stewardship plan is intended to guide park management as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964.

The port commissioners' letter “strikes to the policy implementation choices that the park is making,” Calhoun said Wednesday.

“It conflicts with the strategies that Olympic National Park has proposed to implement their interpretation of the National Wilderness Act definition of wilderness.”

Wilderness is defined in the 1964 Wilderness Act as a place “where the forces of nature predominate and the imprint of man's work is substantially unnoticeable.”

Maynes said the alternatives are based on the Wilderness Act itself, not on federal officials' interpretations of the act.

Calhoun said at Tuesday's meeting that the park should integrate a specific planning objective of increasing the wilderness experience for park visitors.

“The purpose of wilderness is to enrich the human experience and provide that fantastic opportunity we have in this county with our wilderness areas and allow individuals to experience our wilderness, and I don't see that in the planning objectives for implementing the wilderness plan,” he said.

The commissioners' letter was prompted by concerns they expressed at their April 8 meeting over possible impacts on North Olympic Peninsula tourism.

Maynes said the plan's impact on visitor use and tourism will be examined.

“We are not at that point in the process quite yet,” she said.

None of the options has a price tag as yet. Descriptions of them are at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/olymwild.

Comments can be made on that website or mailed to Sarah Creachbaum, Superintendent, Attn: WSP Preliminary Draft Alternatives, Olympic National Park, 600 E. Park Ave., Port Angeles, WA 98362.

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

Last modified: April 23. 2014 7:01PM
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