Congressman Derek Kilmer’s Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is expected to receive a vote on the House floor this week.
The Act, divisive since its introduction by Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks in 2012 — Murray remains a staunch supporter — would designate almost 200 square miles of Olympic National Forest land as wilderness, and 464 river miles as Wild and Scenic.
“I’m excited for the House to consider this on the floor,” said Kilmer during a conference call Monday, which featured a handful of supporters, including Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler and 24th District Representative Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim.
Participants in Monday’s call were supporters of the Act selected by Kilmer’s office and included Taylor Shellfish President Bill Taylor, fishing guide Ashley Nichole Lewis and Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias.
There is regional opposition on the Peninsula to the Act, led by a group called Working Wild Olympics. Politically, Aberdeen’s state Representatives — Democrat Brian Blake and Republican Jim Walsh — have both voiced opposition to the Act; Blake saying it’s unnecessary.
This is the first time the legislation has made it to either chamber for full consideration.
Kilmer and supporters claim the Act will promote more tourism to the benefit of Peninsula businesses, preserve clean water, not impact harvestable timber stands and not close or otherwise limit access to existing roads and trailheads.
Opponents see the act is a federal land grab that will lock up thousands of acres of harvestable second-growth timber, and will limit access in other ways; for example, bicycles are not allowed on Wilderness Act lands.
Kilmer pointed out that the act has been revised after years of public input, removing some of the controversial designations. “Because of the outreach and adjustments, this bill is now formally supported by more than 800 community leaders, who agree our proposal is the right direction for our region.”
Kilmer said just last week changes to the language were made to clarify it would not impact the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to manage its own land, and said the department has proclaimed its “strong support” of the Act.
Dingler said the Act will create new jobs in tourism.
“Our coastal communities have had boom and bust economies for so long it’s kind of become a way of life,” she said. “Tourism is one thing that helps small coastal communities thrive. These new recreational land designations will bring more visitors” to the region, and “will create related jobs, and every restaurant, motel, mom and pop store on the road to these scenic wonders will benefit.”
Tharinger said Kilmer should be congratulated for his work on the Act, “making sure the resource economy is strong, but also strengthen the rising economy around tourism.”
The Act will be considered as part of a package of other House land measures, and Tharinger said its inclusion as part of a broader package “will help it move forward.”
Roy Nott, who was on the call, grew up in Pacific County and followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps into the logging business. He said the Act “would provide world-class outdoor recreation, clean water and especially a high quality of life.” He said, “as a former timber executive I appreciate the fact this final compromise proposal won’t impact current timber jobs or harvestable timber.”
Nott added that research “consistently shows protected public lands throughout the west create comparative economic advantages for rural communities. They attract companies, entrepreneurs and workers, and those rural communities have experienced stronger economic growth. It assists in new employee recruiting efforts, and incomes in those jobs are higher near protected public lands.”
Kilmer said he expects the Act, as part of the package, will get strong support in the House, “and my hope is that we see strong support out of Senate as well” should the legislation pass the House.