I wanted to take this time to share with the community the extraordinary day that I had recently.
It began with a tour of the Lake Quinault area. Our tour guide was a third generation resident whose ancestors were some of the original homesteaders of the Lake Quinault area. After hearing the history of the area, the struggles that they have endured, and experiencing the beauty of the landscape and of the wildlife that cohabitates with the humans there, I had a new-found appreciation for this region and understand why there is so much at stake. I understand now why the residents of Lake Quinault are so protective of their land. For this is their land, their home, their livelihoods. And they are great stewards of this land. Most volunteer countless hours to maintain the public areas and keep the hiking trails and roads in good condition for all to enjoy.
After taking our guide home, we drove to Taholah and to the Quinault Indian Nation administration building. We met with some folks there who shared with us their love of the land and their desire to continue their hunting and gathering customs in the Olympic National Park area as they have performed for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.
As we left Taholah and drove down to Hoquiam, we talked about what we had seen and learned so far. We were excited about the bald eagle that flew alongside our truck, the some 100 or so head of elk that we had seen, the chipmunk that scurried across the road in front of our truck, and the heron that was flushed out of the wetland as we drove past. We talked about the people and their desire to live undisturbed as they have for many, many years.
In Hoquiam, we met with several community leaders, representatives from the Working Wild Olympics, and a county commissioner. What was discussed was the concern that we all had for the possible impacts to the community that the proposal from the Wild Olympics coalition would have. As I looked around the table as everyone shared their concerns, I was amazed by what I observed. There were Democrats, there were Republicans, there was a teenager, and someone in his 70s, some were community leaders, some were not; they were from all walks of life. It was clear that this issue affects everyone – in some way - not just a particular party, or age group, or profession, but everyone in this community. We discussed the high unemployment, the continued depressed economy, the mills that are sitting idle and the ones that are struggling – unable to get enough logs to keep up production, and the people that are living in poverty, who’ve lost their homes – some living in camp trailers, or their cars. We talked about our concerns for future opportunities for our youth.
We discussed the promises made – and broken – by the U.S. Government about many things - timber harvest, park maintenance, jobs, etc. All agreed that the U.S. Forest Service needs to do a better job of caring for their lands. We discussed the claims about how the Wild Olympics proposal will result in an increased amount of tourism and jobs in that sector. But how and why — why would this proposal bring more tourists to the area? And does the Wild Olympics coalition have hard facts to support that claim?
We also discussed the fact that there are already many laws and regulations in place that protect these areas. Further legislation is not needed. We need to do a better job with what is already in place. Working within the current regulations makes much more economic sense.
We then drove to a private home in Hoquiam to meet with a representative of the Wild Olympics. This gentleman welcomed us into his home and shared with us the proposal and what it meant to him and what his vision is for the future. It was clear that he too, cares about the environment, the people, and the state of things on the peninsula. He truly believes that this is the right thing to do and that it will bring jobs and visitors to the area.
Both sides of this issue feel that they have done everything they can to ensure a future for the peninsula though both views are vastly different. This issue has divided this community in a way I have not seen since the Spotted Owl era. Fear is evident throughout the county. All I know is that this community cannot afford another environmentalist-backed shut-down like the Spotted Owl. This community deserves and demands the facts. Who is behind the Wild Olympics proposal? Who is providing the funding for it? What is their long-range plan? If there are jobs to be created, what are they and who will fill them? How many jobs will there be? Are there retraining dollars available for those displaced by this proposed legislation?
The two sides accuse each other of not being willing to meet and discuss the proposal or any changes to it. The members of this community whose lives will be directly affected by this proposed legislation deserve to be involved in any discussions, but feel that they are continually left out. We need to have community forums of some kind to discuss the proposal. Wild Olympics and its backers need to be willing to make adjustments to their proposal if the community advises to do so.
We need to ask the question – do we even need this proposal? After visiting the area and talking to the people closest to it, I don’t think we do.
Beth M. DeVaul is a resident of Elma.