Derek Kilmer — It’s time for an armistice in the battle over the forests

As someone who grew up in Port Angeles, I saw first-hand the impact of lost timber jobs on the entire region. Stores closed. Families struggled. To many including me, these issues still pack an emotional punch because they involve the very fabric of where we live.

I reject the proposition that we must choose between economic growth and environmental protection. As long as we define success in our region as a zero-sum game between those who want to protect our environment and those who want to create jobs, we’ll be as dysfunctional as Washington, D.C.

That’s why over the next month, I’ll be introducing several bills aimed at creating jobs, protecting the environment and moving our region forward.

Among this agenda for the Peninsula is a bill I’m introducing with Senator Patty Murray, the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014, that designates some of the most environmentally sensitive parts of our region so that they will be protected for future generations.

Over the past year I’ve met with folks on all sides of this issue. Leaders in our region’s shellfish industry told me protecting clean water helps them grow. Entrepreneurs who started their businesses on the Peninsula because of the natural surroundings said the increased attention gained by a wilderness designation will drive others to invest too. I spoke with outfitters, guides and other small business owners who believe that increased tourism in the area will allow them to hire new employees and spur other new businesses. And of course I spoke with hundreds, if not thousands, of folks who just want to ensure our children can enjoy the same natural wonders we do.

I also spoke to those concerned about an earlier version of this legislation. At town hall meetings in Aberdeen, Amanda Park, Sequim and Port Angeles, I heard concerns regarding the impacts of wilderness designations on the timber industry and whether the proposal would impede the ability of folks to enjoy our natural surroundings.

I take these concerns seriously. After conversations with the Forest Service and timber industry I’m convinced that nearly all Forest Service land proposed for wilderness would never be commercially harvested and that these designations won’t harm the timber industry.

That said, I also understand the views of those concerned that more needs to be done to responsibly increase harvest in our federal forests. I agree. That’s why I brought industry and environmental leaders together to form a collaborative effort to explore ways we can accomplish these shared goals and why I’m committed to being part of an ongoing discussion about how to balance priorities on federal lands over the long haul.

While Senator Murray and Representative Norm Dicks revised their initial proposal to address some concerns including eliminating any park expansion provisions, I’ve included additional provisions to respond to feedback I’ve heard. For example, I included provisions to ensure the designations won’t impact access or the rights of private landowners to manage or use their land. The bill explicitly doesn’t allow “buffer zones” and doesn’t allow the Forest Service to expand the wilderness area or river designations. We’ve clarified that private landowners and the Forest Service can take action to stop dangerous fires or address blight or infestation. Finally, we’ve added provisions to ensure the rights of tribal partners aren’t diminished.

With these changes, I believe this legislation will protect the Peninsula’s most sensitive lands and waters for future generations while protecting access to outdoor recreation and private landowners’ rights.

I also believe further work must be done to ensure the timber industry remains an important and successful part of our region’s economy. That’s why I co-chair a bipartisan caucus in Congress to support growth opportunities in the timber industry. It’s why I’ve supported efforts to provide more regulatory certainty related to forest roads. It’s why I’ve gone to bat for local forest products firms grappling with trade barriers overseas. And it’s why we established a collaborative effort to identify a path to increased harvest in the Olympic National Forest.

Motivated by my upbringing, I spent the last decade working in economic development. It’s clear that a one-legged economic stool doesn’t stand. Going back to the past isn’t an option, and standing still means a slow decline. It’s time for an armistice on the battles of the past. It’s time to move forward toward a more sustainable and stronger economy. That’s why I’ve released a plan for growing jobs on the Peninsula that includes several other bills to support economic development.

After more than a year of conversation, study and revisions, I’m hopeful that these efforts will be seen as a positive step forward. However, I’m committed to continued conversation with those who have questions or concerns. Introducing the bill is just the first step in the legislative process — there remain opportunities to amend and improve the proposal. I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts with me on this important topic.

Democratic Congressman Derek Kilmer represents the 6th Congressional District, covering the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas.


Rules for posting comments