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Wild Olympics debate heating up

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

The new “Wild Olympics” plan is causing a stir.

 

The Wild Olympics initiative, first proposed by a coalition of peninsula conservation organizations, now has been released as a “draft proposal” by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. The draft is believed to be a first step toward formal legislation.

 

Dicks and Murray’s plan pares some of the acreage from the original Wild Olympics proposal, but it nevertheless would affect hundreds of thousands of acres of peninsula land and have a large impact on the way the forests of the Olympic Peninsula are maintained and utilized.

 

The debate picked up steam in recent weeks with three separate events, each momentarily taking center stage.

 

An article in the Jan. 6 Daily World in Aberdeen boldly announced, “State lawmakers in the 19th and 24th legislative districts all oppose the Wild Olympics plan.”

 

A full-page ad placed by Jim Bower, president of Bower Logging, in the Sunday, Jan. 8, Peninsula Daily News blasted the new plan, bringing on a new round of discussions.

 

A debate on the topic drew hundreds to the Monday, Jan. 23, meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Clallam County (4Cs) where proponents and opponents of the plan defended their views in a lively exchange.

Not so fast

Rep. Steve Tharinger has since taken issue with the Daily World’s story, saying the headline was “very misleading.”

 

Like others in state and county government, he was quick to note that Wild Olympics is a federal issue, with “very little state land ... included in the proposal.”

 

“I support the process and I am monitoring the progress,” Tharinger said. He noted that the plan has “safeguards” that keep much of the land in question in the hands of local residents.

 

“Any land transfers or sales will require a willing buyer and seller,” he said. “And to be clear, the vast majority of the area proposed for wilderness is already off limits for logging because of steep slopes and stream buffers. I also appreciate that it allows for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities on the land.”

 

He also restated his support for loggers. “The timber community has been, and always will be, essential to our way of life on the Olympic Peninsula. Similarly, the natural resources and beauty we enjoy are like no other place in the world and we have an obligation to protect it for future generations. I strongly believe that there is a way to support our timber interests, while protecting our most valuable of resources.”

 

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege agreed, “The state has nothing to do with it,” but added, “I’m personally opposed to it, but I think it’s going to pass. I come from a timber-dependent community, so I’m not excited to see the legislation,” he said.

 

Van De Wege also provided some advice: “I think the opposition would be better served if they were negotiating rather than simply being opposed ... hard-nosed.” He mentioned Bower’s ad and recent comments of Carol Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee.

 

“Right now they have the potential of making it a little easier, a little smaller,” he said.

Counting on the county

Jim McEntire, who recently replaced Tharinger on the Clallam County Commission, said it may be too early in the process “to get all worked up.”

 

“We’re going on a descriptive, hazy proposal,” he said. “There are no details to allow us to do the necessary work.”

 

McEntire also criticized the way the proposal has been generated and promoted.

 

“The discussions should be among the people in the four counties it affects — local people, city officials. An open house, that’s good as far as it goes. But it should be better,” he added, saying the discussions also should bring together locally elected officials, those directly affected and the plan’s proponents.

 

McEntire admits he isn’t enamored by what he has seen to date. “I’m against it, basically. I have nothing against protecting the wilderness. But there is no protection of the economic basis of the county; no trade-off for forestry activities. No balance of economic development.”

 

He noted that proponents of the plan are putting together an economic study on the issue. “As an elected official I’m willing to listen. If it can protect the environment and the economy of Clallam County — that’s what’s uppermost in my mind now. I haven’t seen that yet.”

 

McEntire’s colleague on the commission, Mike Doherty, said the commission sent a letter some months ago “generally supporting it,” as long as Olympic National Park only could purchase land from willing buyers.

 

“If a timber company wanted to sell, that was fine.”

 

But Doherty also said the plan was too poorly drawn at the time. “We urged the proponents to put maps (in the proposal) and to come up and talk.”

 

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