Wild Olympics legislation on upswing

Bill passes Senate hurdle but needs House support

Sen. Patty Murray has high hopes that Wild Olympics legislation will be approved by the U.S. Senate after a decade of trying and failing at congressional passage.

First introduced in 2012 by Murray and 6th District U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks — and reintroduced in every Congress by Murray and then by Dicks’ successor, Derek Kilmer — the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act received its first Senate hearing earlier this summer and is awaiting full Senate consideration.

That was a breakthrough, Murray said last week after she hiked 2 miles along a section of the Upper Dungeness Trail that would be preserved by S. 455, which in February passed the House as H.R. 999 with Kilmer’s sponsorship.

“We are closer than we’ve ever been,” Murray said Aug. 31 in an interview after the sojourn.

Her party included 24th District state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, and conservationist, author and conservationist Tim McNulty, vice president of Olympic Park Advocates.

The legislation would preserve 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness, or 20 percent of the forest, barring logging on the acreage under a federal mandate. The bill designates specified segments of 19 rivers and their tributaries as wild, scenic or recreational, with protective buffer zones along their borders.

Along with the Dungeness, they would include portions of the Elwha, Hoh, Bogachiel, Big Quilcene, Dosewallips, Sol Duc, Lyre, Queets, South Fork Calawah, Duckabush, Hamma Hamma, South Fork Skokomish, Middle Fork Satsop, West Fork Satsop, East Fork Humptulips, West Fork Humptulips, Quinault and Wynoochee rivers.

For the first time in 10 years, the bill, approved before in the House, made it out of committee in the Senate this summer, passing muster before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.

“All that’s left now is for the committee to mark up the bill and send it to the Senate floor for a full vote,” Murray said.

Murray, a five-term senator up for re-election in 2022, predicted the legislation would be packaged with other bills, adding it will need 60 votes for a floor vote.

She said she expects Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to not block the bill if it gets bipartisan support.

McConnell’s office did not return an email request for comment on the legislation.

The mile-long section Murray walked last week was through old-growth Douglas fir along the Dungeness River.

McNulty called it “a really stunning example” of the protection Wild Olympics offers, located as it is near the Buckhorn Wilderness, Olympic National Forest’s largest wilderness-designated area, through which the Dungeness flows.

The section of trail that would be preserved was left out of Buckhorn Wilderness when Congress gave it the designation in 1984.

“The rationale back then was that it was administratively protected,” he said. “We know that, with different administrations, that could change.”

Passage of Wild Olympics “would give it permanent protection,” he said.

McNulty said the Wild Olympics Campaign (wildolympics.org) has addressed critics who, since 2012, have been successful in preventing significant progress.

Concessions include adding back 11,300 acres of “manageable” timberlands that had been designated as proposed wilderness and the majority of previously logged parcels that could be ground-based or helicopter logged, he said.

But Carole Johnson, the former executive director of the defunct North Olympic Timber Action Committee, said Monday that timber interests had proposed 130,000 acres of second growth that had already been harvested that should remain in logging.

The real issue is former President Bill Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan, which made Pacific Northwest national forests “predominantly wilderness,” Johnson said.

The wild and scenic rivers portion of the legislation is simply adding a layer of bureaucracy, she added.

“Generally speaking, the majority of the timberland that is owned by the federal government is already in wilderness. Those rivers that come out of a wilderness situation, and they want to make them more restrictive.

“How much higher can you get that wilderness designation?”