The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives this week.
First introduced in 2012 as the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012, the legislation has been modified over the years by Representative Derek Kilmer and Senator Patty Murray, and has faced a mixed local community reaction.
Rep. Kilmer was on Twitter following the vote;
As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I learned first-hand that economic growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand. That’s why I’m proud to see the House pass the Wild Olympics Act – a bill I introduced to protect the environment and grow jobs in our region. pic.twitter.com/tiuXU78Kzr
— Rep. Derek Kilmer (@RepDerekKilmer) February 13, 2020
Senator Patty Murray sent a tweet that said;
Thanks to great partners like @RepDerekKilmer, local tribes & so many others, the @WildOlympics Act passed in the House today! This progress puts us one step closer to preserving the Olympic Peninsula’s vital resources and beauty—and I’ll keep fighting to pass it in the Senate.
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) February 12, 2020
The legislation was reintroduced in 2014, 2015, and 2017, the current reiteration continues the goals first set out by Sen. Murray and Representative Norm Dicks.
Currently, the bill would designate approximately 126,554 acres in the Olympic National Forest as wilderness and designate some rivers in the forest and Olympic National Park as wild and scenic.
The sponsors of the bill say that this designation would provide “myriad benefits to local community and beyond,” giving the area a “competitive edge” over other regions to attract tourism as well as companies and workers looking to be closer to the wilderness.
The bill states that the land designated as wilderness protects “ecological, geological, or other forms of scientific, scenic, or historical value”.
The designations are said to continue to provide access to some non-recreational activities, no roads would be closed, no public land would be subject to the designations, and that it would not create a major impact on the current regional logging industry as 99% of the forests cannot be commercially harvested already under federal law.
In the release they say that the act is designed through “extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water and salmon streams as well as enhance outdoor recreation”.
The Wild Olympics Coalition also released today over 100 new endorsements for the changes to bring the total endorsements regionally to more than 800.
This includes 24th Legislative District Representatives Steve Tharinger and Mike Chapman, the Quinault Indian Nation, Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson, Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler, Elma Mayor Jim Sorensen, multiple local city councilmembers, and various local businesses and groups.
The Grays Harbor County Commissioners, Aberdeen City Council, and Cosmopolis City Council have all voted in opposition to the legislation since it was originally introduced.
Bill sponsors have said that the legislation would 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.
The bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Thursday where it must be moved forward receive a floor vote and possible final passage.