Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014 on Friday.
Like its 2012 predecessor, introduced by Murray and former congressman Norm Dicks, the bill would designate land in the Olympic National Forest as wilderness and designate 19 rivers as “Wild and Scenic.”
“The Olympic Peninsula’s wild spaces are among Washington state’s crown jewels, and the Wild Olympics proposal supports the foundation of conservation developed over generations,” Murray said in a press release.
However, the current iteration of the bill would designate fewer acres of land as wilderness than the 2012 measure, which would have affected 126,661 acres. The new bill would designate 125,554 acres as wilderness.
The decrease in affected acres is the result of a compromise with timber stakeholders, Kilmer said. About 11,300 acres of loggable timberland were removed from the proposal and replaced with about 7,400 acres of old-growth forest.
“The boundary designations have been driven by stakeholders,” Kilmer said.
“I didn’t want to move forward with something that would negatively impact timber sales,” he added.
The bill also includes 5,346 acres of “potential wilderness” — land that will become wilderness once the U.S. Forest Service completes restoration projects. Other than that, the boundaries of wilderness could not be changed administratively, Kilmer said.
And, unlike the original, the 2014 bill would exclude timber from along the east and west forks of the Humptulips River, and allow continued maintenance of Forest Service roads, trails and trailheads. The legislation also creates setbacks for roads and trails to ensure access for maintenance.
An area of wilderness would be added at the headwaters of the east fork of the Humptulips River — an area of forest that doesn’t have any roads.
Also gone from the new bill is the “willing seller” provision that could have paved the way for expansion of Olympic National Park in the future.
However, members of the anti-Wild Olympics camp said these changes aren’t enough to ensure their support. Dan Boeholt, a member of the Working Wild Olympics group, said they’re a step in the right direction, but don’t go nearly far enough.
“I’m not impressed,” Boeholt said. “It appears to be pretty similar to the previous legislation. It is interesting that it makes some little changes, but it’s still a drop in the bucket. We’re still not going to support it.”
Harold Brunstad, also a member of Working Wild Olympics, said he agrees with Boeholt. The life-long Harborite said he’s interested in maintaining access to the areas he’s always enjoyed.
“I’m on the downhill side of 77, and I was around when they first opened those forests,” Brunstad said. “I’ve worked in logging there, I’ve seen it all. I probably won’t be around to enjoy it for too much longer, but I’d like to keep the forest open for future generations.”
Kilmer said he’s prepared for criticism of his bill, and he’s open to amendments.
“Introducing a bill isn’t the end of the conversation,” Kilmer said. “It’s a continuation of the conversation.”
He said many of the changes in this year’s bill are the result of conversations he’s had with Working Wild Olympics members and other less-than-enthusiastic constituents at Grays Harbor town hall meetings, and meetings at other peninsula locations.
“I’ve tried to engage people in these conversations and address their concerns when possible,” Kilmer said.
But introducing the bill is only the first step in a potentially lengthy legislative process. The original bill died in committee, and Kilmer said he’s wary of this year’s bill falling victim to congressional gridlock.
“We’ve just come off of the least productive year in U.S. history, so not a lot is moving right now,” Kilmer said.
But for now he’s sticking to the familiar adage: only time will tell.