Wild Olympics legislation gets hearing in Senate subcommittee

Controversial Wild Olympics legislation, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in late February, was heard by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining on Wednesday.

The hearing brings Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Derek Kilmer’s legislation the closest it’s ever been to becoming law since Murray first introduced the bill in 2012 with then Rep. Norm Dicks.

“In order to set aside the first new wilderness on Olympic National Forest in nearly three decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, I will keep fighting to get the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild Scenic Rivers Act to the President’s desk,” said Murray at the hearing.

The bill would designate 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.

Murray and Kilmer touted more than 70 new endorsements to the bill on Wednesday.

In Murray’s statement, she said she had the support of Peninsula mayors, including Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Elma and Ocean Shores. But when contacted by The Daily World, only one of those mayors came out in support of the bill, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler.

“I do not support the bill as it stands,” said Elma Mayor Jim Sorensen.

Hoquiam Mayor Ben Winkelman seemed surprised and said he will be contacting Murray’s office to let them know he does not support the legislation. Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave said he does not support Wild Olympics, nor Murray.

The bill does not have the support of the Grays Harbor County Board of County Commissioners, either.

Shortly after the bill passed the House, all three commissioners signed a resolution saying, in part, that they believed that “Wild Olympics proposal threatens jobs on the Olympic Peninsula and is not consistent with Grays Harbor County’s mission of economic development,” and that “this proposal would take timberland out of production. Any reduction or further regulation of our timber industry threatens the very livelihoods that people have relied on for generations.”

Legislators in the 19th District have come out against Wild Olympics legislation. Those in the 24th District, however, are supportive.

“Yes, I support Wild Olympics legislation sponsored by Sen. Murray and Congressman Kilmer,” said Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles.

“This legislation has broad bipartisan and business support throughout the 24th Legislative District. I have been a supporter since this legislation was first introduced and it will not impact any privately or state owned actively managed timberlands and will encourage further tourism growth throughout the Olympic Peninsula.”

Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, said Murray and Kilmer have done a good job of reaching out to find the right balance in drafting the legislation in its current form, and that it would help shellfish and fish without hurting timber harvests.

“I’ve supported it all along,” he said.

Kilmer, Murray and the bill’s proponents argue the legislation would protect ancient forests, clean water and salmon streams as well as enhance outdoor recreation.

Murray’s office again Wednesday claimed, “This proposal will have no impact on existing timber jobs,” and would protect “outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking, camping, boating, hunting, and fishing — without closing any roads.”

Opponents call the bill a federal land-grab that will lock up miles of roads to public access. For example, mountain bikes are not allowed on wilderness-designated land. They also maintain it would permanently remove second-growth timber from potential harvest, and take forest management out of the hands of private timber managers and put it under the control of the under-funded Olympic National Forest.

Kilmer offered the following statement Wednesday about the 70 new endorsements for the bill, and the more than 800 endorsements proponents claim.

“I’m thrilled to see new endorsements from local employers, elected officials, business leaders, sportsmen and conservation groups who agree that Congress should pass this practical, balanced strategy,” he said.

”The Wild Olympics Act will help grow jobs and support our natural resource and outdoor recreation economies by protecting the wildest and most pristine places on the Peninsula. I am grateful for the years-long collaboration to create a proposal that works for folks across the community.”

At the hearing, Murray said, “Wild Olympics has brought Washington state families and communities from all walks of life together to protect beautiful outdoor spaces we all love, and I’m thrilled to be here today to be their voice in urging we get this bill to President Biden’s desk without any further delay.”