The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Scenic Rivers Act, which would put wilderness designation on more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest and designate 464 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic rivers, passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Thursday morning.
The initial Wild Olympics legislation was filed in 2012 by then congressman Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray. It has been modified over the years in response to public comment collected by Congressman Derek Kilmer and Murray on the Olympic Peninsula and, according to Kilmer, “has been formally supported by more than 800 community leaders. And we’re talking Republicans, Democrats, business owners, sportsmen, county commissioners, tribal leaders and more who all agree that this proposal moves our region in the right direction.”
The bill that cleared committee Thursday, HR 2642, has been carried by Kilmer. It now goes to the full House for a vote and if successful there, it goes to the Senate, where Murray, who as a Democrat is in the minority, will push it.
Supporters say the bill isn’t the same version that drew strong opposition from some in the wood products industry and sportsmen, and they cite supporters of their own in those categories.
Opponents of the bill are still adamant that it’s over-reaching environmentalism.
Connie Gallant from the Wild Olympics Coalition released a statement Thursday, saying the group “cheered the passage,” adding the act was “designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests and clean water and enhance recreation.”
Proponents and opponents disagree as to the facts in some areas of the bill.
Opponents of the Act, like public access advocate Dan Boeholt, say it takes land meant for multi-use and puts the wilderness designation on it, “the most restrictive designation you can have.” It also, said Boeholt, takes up to 50,000 acres of second-growth timber out of possible harvest, and puts 65 miles of existing roads under wilderness designation.
In response, proponents say the act in its current form would not close any existing Forest Service roads or trailheads or impact the harvestable timber base in the Olympic National Forest.
Kilmer and Murray reintroduced the act in May. Kilmer said he had “no sense of timing” as to how long it will take the act to make its way through the House, but on average it takes a bill 3-6 months to be heard. If it passes the House, it will move on to the Senate.