Featured Wilderness: Washington's Wild Olympics

Your Wilderness - August 2012

After nearly three years of public involvement and extensive input by local communities, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012 on June 21.

This landmark legislation would permanently protect the Olympic Peninsula's ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, and stunning scenery for future generations. It would designate 126,554 acres of new wilderness on Olympic National Forest, safeguarding drinking water sources for local communities. The bill would protect 19 rivers and their tributaries on federal and state lands as Wild and Scenic, preserve salmon and steelhead habitat, and provide world-class outdoor recreation opportunities for hiking, camping, kayaking, hunting, and fishing.

Pew is a member of the Wild Olympics Campaign, a local coalition that helped build support for this legislation. Learn more at the Wild Olympics website. When introducing the bill, Rep. Dicks said, “The feedback we have received from everyday citizens has played a vital role in the development of this legislation. The result has been a consensus proposal that will help protect these sensitive areas on the Olympic Peninsula and continue our progress to protect and restore Puget Sound and Hood Canal for future generations.” Sen. Murray added, “The amazing natural treasures in the Olympic Peninsula are among the crown jewels of our state, and the Wild Olympics proposal will build on the strong foundation of conservation that has been laid down over generations.”

Examples of the ancient forests and free-flowing waterways that would be protected as new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers under this visionary legislation include:

Buckhorn Wilderness Additions
The Buckhorn Wilderness encompasses a variety of high peaks that include important portions of the Gray Wolf and Big Quilcene rivers. The Buckhorn Wilderness is divided into two units, north and south. Significant wild lands adjacent to both boundaries are worthy of wilderness protection and would join the two current Buckhorn units. Contiguous with the northern unit of Buckhorn are the Deer Ridge, Three O'Clock Ridge, and Upper Dungeness areas. Contiguous with the southern unit are the Dirty Face, Hamilton Mountain, and North Dosewallips Slope areas. All are proposed for wilderness designation as additions to the Buckhorn Wilderness. It is habitat for wildlife such as black-tailed deer, cougar, and black bear; in addition, pink salmon, coho, Chinook, steelhead, cutthroat, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden trout populate its waters.

South Quinault Ridge
President Bill Clinton referred to the priceless quality of the South Quinault Ridge when he introduced his plan to safeguard Inventoried Roadless Areas here. The area boasts the most extensive block of unprotected ancient rain forest in the lower 48 states. Visitors to the recreational playground of Lake Quinault appreciate the magnificent green hills rising from the south shore. But beyond serving as a scenic view for tourists, the South Quinault Ridge's deep canyons harbor some of the finest temperate rain forest found anywhere. Huge Douglas fir and western red cedar trees are numerous, sometimes topping out at 300 feet and supporting girths of nine feet or more. Big Sitka spruce add another dimension of character to the old forest.

Sams River
The Sams River and surrounding area is an un-inventoried region north of Lake Quinault within the Queets watershed. Logged in the early part of the 20th century, it was allowed to return to wilderness over the years. The Sams, along with its sister stream to the south, Matheny Creek, flows from the park through Olympic National Forest before returning to the Queets corridor. Similar to the Skokomish watershed to the east, the steep slopes and valleys in this area went through an intense period of logging in the early to middle 20th century. Fortunately, the U.S. Forest Service has done some critical restoration work here, and the Sams River area is now an important wilderness addition to two tributaries of the Queets River.

View photos from the Wild Olympics: