Wild Olympics plan attached to defense bill, passes House

The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Scenic Rivers Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives for the second time this year on Thursday, Sept. 23, this time attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Wild Olympics legislation would permanently protect more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries — a total of 464 river miles — as Wild and Scenic Rivers. It’s long been a priority of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, and has support in the Senate from Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Earlier this year, the locally controversial Act passed the House as part of the larger Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, a package of public lands bills that passed the House on Feb. 26. Recently, Colorado U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette offered to add the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act as an amendment to the NDAA.

The House approved adding the amendment to the NDAA by a margin of 222-200. On Thursday night, the entire House voted to approve the NDAA “by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority, 316-113,” according to a statement from Kilmer’s office.

The Senate will now move to pass its own version of the NDAA. Then the House and Senate will conference to find a compromise between the two versions, eventually voting to send the compromise package to a vote in both chambers. If it passes in its current House form, it would include passage of the Wild Olympics Act. Kilmer’s office said the NDAA is considered “must-pass legislation given that it authorizes funding for the Department of Defense.”

A statement from the Wild Olympics Campaign said, “The NDAA offers another opportunity to advance the bill in both Houses of Congress. A similar legislative strategy was used in 2014 by Senators Murray and Cantwell and Representatives Reichert and DelBene to attach legislation to expand Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Alpine Lakes and Ilabott Creek, the last major wilderness and wild and scenic bills for Washington, which were passed in the 2014 NDAA.”

The Act was first introduced by Murray and then-Rep. Norm Dicks in 2012. In recent years, it’s seen some success in one form or another but has failed to find final passage.

Supporters of the Act say it will not tie up harvestable timber nor will it limit public access. Opponents argue that it will lock up land for public access, as well as thousands of acres of harvestable second-growth timber.

Local supporters of the Act include Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler and 24th District Representatives Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger. Opponents include Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave, Elma Mayor Jim Sorensen, and Hoquiam Mayor Ben Winkelman. Rep. Jim Walsh, Rep. Joel McEntire and Sen. Jeff Wilson of the 19th District have voiced opposition to the Act.