Opposition to Wild Olympics runs deep

Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer with their re-introduction of the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation continue on their mission on behalf of the environmental industry to put the long-term economic and recreational viability of the Olympic National Forest at risk for Grays Harbor and other Olympic Peninsula communities and visitors to the area.

The interior of the Olympic Peninsula that was carved out of the Olympic National Forest in 1938 (900,000+ acres) and designated a National Park was appropriate for protecting a unique ecological landscape. The remaining National Forest, 600,000+ acres, were to remain under multiple use management for both recreation and economic endeavors, primarily based on its timber resource. The timber management activities that have occurred over the past seven-plus decades have opened up access for family recreation that is vehicle accessible throughout the forest.

The economic value of the National Forest to Peninsula communities was severely impacted with the endangered species listing of the Northern Spotted Owl in the early 1990s. However, a reduced level of timber harvest is still occurring on the forest, about 10 percent of the historic sustainable level. It should be noted that in the landscape photo that accompanied the March 2 Daily World article featuring the South Quinault Ridge and Moonlite Dome proposed Wilderness areas, timber harvest activities have been occurring for half a century and continue currently. It also includes a significant segment of the West Fork Humptulips trail mentioned in the article.

To put the federally-designated land management areas into perspective, the following data is provided: Olympic Peninsula total area – 3,600 square miles (Wikipedia); Olympic National Park – 1440 square miles (40 percent); Olympic National Park Wilderness – 1,368 square miles (95 percent of park); Olympic National Forest – 980 square miles (27 percent); Olympic National Forest Wilderness – 137 square miles (14 percent). Of the 2,420 square miles of federal ownership on the Olympic Peninsula, 1505 square miles (62 percent) is currently designated Wilderness. This will increase to 70 percent under the proposed legislation. One has to ask, how much of anti-people Wilderness is enough?

As pointed out in the Daily World article, a Wilderness designation mandates the highest level of landscape protection for federal lands focusing on protecting the natural resources, landscapes and discouraging human use through restrictive entry and activity rules. Although there are areas within the park that warrant this level of protection, the “broad brush” designation as Wilderness, 95 percent, for the Olympic Park in 1988 was excessive if you are interested in promoting and drawing a broad segment of the recreating public to the Olympic Mountains for a family recreational experience.

On the Olympic National Forest, 65 percent of the 125,000-acre wilderness proposal overlays roadless area designated landscapes (85,000 acres) that were implemented as a result of the Roadless Area Conservation Review and proposal of May 2000. Roadless areas designation provides a higher level of resource protection for existing unmanaged areas, including old growth stands and associated ecosystems without resorting to Wilderness designations. Some of these Roadless Areas are interlaced with existing roaded corridors that provide access to these landscapes. If these fragmented areas become Wilderness, these access corridors will most likely be abandoned, reducing the accessibility to these sub-alpine areas for a large segment of the public. Maintenance of the few existing trails and development of new trails to accommodate a growing recreational public will be jeopardized under a Wilderness designation.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers component of the proposed legislation will do nothing to improve water quality in the rivers that flow from the Olympics. As they always have, Peninsula rivers will continue to refresh the waters in Puget Sound tainted by activities associated with concentrated population and wildlife such as seals; and serve as a “shock absorber” for water quality degradation events such as the current releasing of millions of gallons of raw sewage per day from a failing Seattle treatment plant.

A “scenic” designation on the lower reaches of Peninsula rivers is concerning in regard to the development of vehicle accessible recreational sites. Although these types of developments are not specifically prohibited, the river designation provides an open door for an environmental organization to litigate any project to which they object.

The primary objective of environmentalists in promoting Wild and Scenic Rivers is to permanently prohibit the construction of dams, which tops their disdain list, and which include logging, mining and fossil fuels. I seriously doubt anyone that is perpendicular on earth today will ever see another dam built on the Peninsula. However, if we are indeed headed toward catastrophic global warming as prophesied by the environmental industry, facilities to store water may be needed to adapt to that changed environment – even in Western Washington.

The Daily World article reports that the Wild Olympics Coalition has collected several hundred new political and business endorsements along with 12,000 local residents in support of more Olympics Wilderness. The local coalition in opposition has collected several hundred endorsements and signatures of businesses and individuals, mostly from Grays Harbor. It does not have the time and outside resources to support a perpetual signature-gathering effort. Jobs and other responsibilities get in the way. It is easy to peddle a “feel good” notion when you only offer one side of an issue. The folks opposed to this initiative know the other side, most having experienced it.

Harold B. Brunstad has been involved in the wood products industry for many years and lives near Montesano.