In Congress: Toiling in the Fields for Wilderness

Your Wilderness - November 2012

It has been quiet on Capitol Hill with Congress out of session and representatives and senators campaigning for the November elections. But that doesn't mean all is quiet on the wilderness front. Some members of Congress have been in their states and districts talking about wilderness proposals over the past few months.

Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Norm Dicks, both Washington Democrats, were in the field late in the summer promoting their Wild Olympics and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 3329/H.R. 5995). The bill would designate more than 126,000 acres of national forest wilderness, much of which surrounds the boundaries of Olympic National Park. Most of the tracts that would become wilderness are inventoried roadless areas, which means they possess intact forest ecosystems and represent the best natural landscapes the peninsula has to offer that are presently unprotected. The bill would also designate 19 rivers and seven tributaries, totaling 464 miles, as wild and scenic.

Protecting clean water on the Olympic Peninsula is central to Sen. Murray and Rep. Dicks' effort. They gathered at Taylor Shellfish on Skookum Bay, joined by local elected officials, to talk about how important water quality is to the local economy. Taylor Shellfish supports the legislation because the success of its oyster farm, like many local businesses, depends on clean water flowing from the high peaks of the Olympic Mountains. The wilderness and wild and scenic rivers would also protect sources of municipal drinking water and safeguard critical salmon and steelhead habitat.

Sen. Murray pointed out that they have worked for years with local stakeholders to construct a broadly supported bill. She recalled listening to and heeding concerns from the timber industry and local officials concerned about jobs to carefully draw the wilderness boundaries and not expand Olympic National Park.

After the event, the lawmakers visited some of the areas that would be protected by the bill. Many of these places, such as the Quillayute River watershed, are important low-elevation rainforest habitat. The Elk-Reade area is an old-growth reservoir of inestimable ecological value. Tree species in this area include large western hemlock and old-growth Sitka spruce. Lost Creek is an outstanding rainforest environment, but doesn't have any administrative protections. The Wild Olympics measure would protect all these areas and more.

As part of the tour, Dicks and Murray made it clear that although the path forward for any legislation this year is difficult, the Wild Olympics bill is alive and well and they will continue working tirelessly to pass it.

View Photos from the Wild Olympics: