Wilderness designation on Olympic Peninsula not friendly to people

The Bremerton Sun article reprinted in The Daily World July 18 and headlined “Olympic National Park has a wild future ahead” should provide insight to those who are unsure of whether we need more wilderness on the Olympic National Forest as proposed by the Wild Olympics Campaign and what that wilderness means to recreationalists and general public users.

Olympic National Park protects 922,651 acres, 95 percent designated as “wilderness.” The Olympic National Forest surrounds the park and consists of 633,677 acres. Land management of the national forest system focuses on accessible public recreation, timber harvest and other commercial uses, wildlife and clean water; a multiple-use concept.

National park management focuses on protecting landscapes and resources in their unspoiled and natural condition but generally provides for public access for recreation and enjoyment of natural landscapes and scientific study.

Wilderness provides the highest level of landscape protection on federal lands, focusing on minimal human imprint, prohibiting structures and any motorized or mechanical devices. Hunting is allowed in designated wilderness on the national forest but access on the Olympic Peninsula for that activity is only for the hardiest woodsmen.

Ninety-five percent of the Olympic National Park is officially designated wilderness. In 1986, 88,265 acres of the Olympic National Forest (15 percent) were designated wilderness and provides an additional buffer to the park wilderness in several areas. Wilderness is not a very user-friendly designation as noted in the park article referred to above. Tim McNulty, a long-time park preservationist pointed out: “The future of the park is really going to be about protecting natural resources vs increasing users. It’s where everything is headed.” He adds that with 95 percent of the park designated wilderness, the park’s stewardship plan could alter public access rules. This has already occurred. Access to many areas is restricted by permit allowing only a limited number of campers in an area at one time. Restrictions on the use of horses and campfires have also been implemented. If the trail system had not been in place when the park was designated in 1938, it probably would not exist today.

Bruce Moorehead, a retired park wildlife biologist states the key to boosting the parks ecosystems lays outside the park’s borders, which is the Olympic National Forest. Moorehead points out that the Forest Service is working closely with the Park Service on management strategies. It is probably that type of collaboration that resulted in the Olympic Forest proposal in 1980 to put a gate across US Highway 101 at Neilton and only allow people access to the Quinault Valley via public transportation, including the residents who had established homes in the valley.

The agenda to make the entire Olympics a wilderness is as old as the park itself. The design for that agenda does not stop at the park boundary or the National Forest boundary but extends to the saltwaters surrounding the Peninsula. The Wild Olympics Campaign proposal, reflected in legislation proposed by Congressman Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray to designate an additional 130,000 acres as wilderness on the Olympic National Forest and most of the major rivers on the Olympic Peninsula as Wild and Scenic facilitates and extends the boundaries of that aged wilderness agenda, cutting out the Cabela’s-leaning recreationalists so the REI recreationalist can have the mystics of the Olympics to themselves. The recent presidential appointment of the REI Chief Executive for Secretary of the Interior, which oversees the national parks, further “greases the skids” for that agenda.

Yellowstone National Park is a people-friendly park; Olympic National Park is not because of its inaccessibility, Wilderness designation and its management strategies to keep it that way. The impact from the “people-friendly” management of Yellowstone extends many miles outside the park and surrounding national forest to the benefit of the businesses and residents of the surrounding communities.

Those businesses surrounding the Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park who think more wilderness on the Olympic Forest is going to benefit them economically need to reassess the impacts of the Wild Olympics legislation. The same goes for those members of the Peninsula communities that want to see the National Forest remain “people-friendly” and not morph into an extension of the Olympic National Park. A good place to start would be to read or reread the 18 July article on the Olympic National Park.

Harold B. Brunstad is a resident of Central Park