WASHINGTON, D.C — Eight years after it was first introduced, the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is scheduled for a floor vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congressman Derek Kilmer expects the vote today, he said during a conference call Monday. If it passes the House, it will go to the Senate, where Sen. Patty Murray has carried the legislation for years.
The legislation would designate as wilderness about 126,600 acres of Olympic National Forest and would designate as wild and scenic rivers some 464 river miles across 19 rivers and tributaries on the Olympic Peninsula.
“Protecting public lands isn’t just about saving these unforgettable places for the next generation, it’s also about protecting jobs,” said Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
Kilmer said the legislation has been adjusted since it was initially introduced in 2012 by then Congressman Norm Dicks and Murray.
After years of meetings with regional stakeholders, the legislation now will not close, decommission or restrict access to any forest service roads or trailheads; will not impact any harvestable timber in the national forest; will not affect private property rights; will not affect state Department of Natural Resources management; and will not expand the Olympic National Park, Kilmer said.
He said that it would encourage tourism by protecting recreational access to the Olympic National Forest and permanently protect old growth forests, rivers, sources of clean drinking water and salmon and steelhead habitat.
Kilmer said the newest version of the Wild Olympics act has been endorsed by 800 local businesses as well as CEOs, farms, conservation and recreation organizations, local elected officials and tribes such as the Quinault, Quileute, Lower Elwha Klallam and the Jamestown S’Klallam.
“The shellfish industry depends upon clean water and a clean environment,” said Bill Taylor, president of Taylor Shellfish, which operates farms on the Hood Canal, during Monday’s conference call.
“This legislation will help to permanently protect areas of the Olympic Peninsula” that are important to the industry, he said.
Crystal Dingler, mayor of Ocean Shores, said the legislation would bring more tourism and thus more tourism jobs to small rural communities.
“Jobs are the key to resilient communities,” Dingler said during the conference call.
Among those not in favor of the legislation is the Forks City Council, which on Monday night approved a resolution 4-1 opposing the act.
After asking about the difference between wilderness and recreational use, Council member Joe Soho moved to approve the resolution opposing Wild Olympics. Council members Mike Gilstrap, Jeff Gingell and John Hillcar joined him, while Council member Juanita Weissenfels was the only no vote after Mayor Tim Fletcher asked for a show of hands.
During Monday’s conference call, former timber business executive Roy Nott spoke in favor of the legislation.
”I appreciate that Sen. Murray’s and Rep. Kilmer’s final compromise proposal was scaled back to ensure it would not impact current timber jobs,” said Nott, who is presently Aberdeen Forest Products Consultant.
He said Monday that the area’s national treasures, world-class recreational opportunities and high quality of life “gives us a competitive advantage in attracting talented people to help us staff new companies.
“Our competitive advantage is wilderness and rivers,” he added. “Protected public lands create economic advantages.”
Calling the legislation “exciting,” state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, said during the call that Congress should be congratulated on “working to solve challenges about people’s concerns about the economy and tourism.”
Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias said that the “creative, collaborative approach” to developing the legislation “has really changed the nature of the conversation” to being “not so much about a win and a loss but about how does everybody win.”