6th District candidates stake out different ground on Wild Olympics

Congressional candidates Derek Kilmer and Bill Driscoll both say that timber harvest levels in the Olympic National Forest need to increase, but they differ in their approach to recent legislation that would expand wilderness designations and put areas around the Olympic National Park off limits to logging.

Driscoll, a Republican who has been involved in the timber industry for most of his life, adamantly opposes the Wild Olympics legislation. Kilmer, a Democratic state senator from Gig Harbor who says he chose a career in economic development because he saw the decline of the timber industry when he was growing up in Port Angeles, has a nuanced view and won’t say flatly whether he’s for or against it.

Both candidates, who are vying for the 6th Congressional District seat of retiring Congressman Norm Dicks, were quizzed about the issue during separate interviews with The Daily World’s Editorial Board recently.

In June, Congressman Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012, roughly three years after conservation and recreation groups started the conversation to expand protection of areas around Olympic National Park. The legislation expands the wilderness area around the park and also creates a Wild and Scenic designation along rivers coming out of the park. Logging is not allowed in official wilderness areas. It’s a trimmed-down proposal from the one first talked about even a year ago and no longer includes an option that would have allowed the park to expand by letting private landowners sell their land to the National Park if they were in a designated area.

The compromise plan now would only impact state or federal land, not private property owners, and has much more support than the original ideas.

But it still has its detractors, including Driscoll. “We need to stop putting legislation like the Wild Olympics first,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said he supports clean water and recreation in timber areas, but he sees no immediate threat to water quality or recreation opportunities in the National Forest. Instead, he says, the immediate threat is to logging jobs, with mill after mill closed. He says if all of the effort in favor of the Wild Olympics Campaign would have been put forward to allow more logging in the National Forest, some of those mills may have been open by now. “To me, the key here is we have got to redo how we harvest our national forest lands,” he said. “I believe strongly we can increase harvests in our national forest lands. We were at 368 million board feet in 1988. We’re at about 20 million today. You can get that to well over 100 million board feet. What it’s going to take is pushing through change. I wouldn’t even look at Wild Olympics until we got that resolved.”

Kilmer agrees that more needs to be done to increase timber harvest levels, noting that he hoped to find a way through existing regulations rather than through new legislation. Kilmer noted that Congressman Dicks recently lamented that he did not do enough on the issue.

For Kilmer, the Wild Olympics question is not a simple answer. A couple weeks before the legislation was introduced, Kilmer told The Daily World, “I learned a long time ago you don’t come out for or against legislation until it’s been introduced and you see the specifics of it.”

Then, after the legislation was introduced, Kilmer called it a “false choice” to have him decide if he would support the legislation because he said he would “shape this proposal” to increase timber harvest levels and to help the environment.

During discussions with The Daily World’s Editorial Board on Thursday, Kilmer revealed he had concerns about the original Wild Olympics plan, although those reservations were never publicized at the time.

“I had concerns about the original proposal put forward by Congressman Dicks and Senator Murray,” Kilmer said. “I think they made efforts to address some of those concerns about economic impact and property rights. And so I think it’s moved in the right direction while still having positive impacts in terms of salmon recovery and our shellfish industry. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that we need to increase our federal harvest levels.”

Driscoll hands out campaign literature at community events that boldly states Kilmer “supports Wild Olympics.”

“He can say whatever he wants,” Kilmer says after being shown one brochure. “One thing I would say is you just heard what I said about the Wild Olympics, so I hope you take his sense and credibility with what he says about this similar to what he’s said about every other issue he spoke with you about. I think it’s important to actually be straight with folks and tell people where you stand on issues and I’ve given you my sense of it.”

Asked several times again by the Editorial Board if he specifically supports or is against the current proposal, Kilmer didn’t provide a “yes” or “no” answer.

“My hope is to be elected to Congress and be able to shape that dialogue in a way that tries to drive further consensus,” Kilmer said.

Driscoll said he honestly felt that Kilmer was in favor of the current legislation.

“If he didn’t say that then he’s toeing a really, really, really thin line,” Driscoll said. “I certainly thought he said he supported it now that there’s the changes that have been in it.”