Murray, Dicks wade into Wild Olympics

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Daily World

Congressman Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray introduced a draft proposal today supporting the Wild Olympics Campaign and its effort to expand wilderness protection around Olympic National Park.

"I am pleased to work with Senator Murray in developing a consensus plan to provide additional wilderness protection on the Olympic Peninsula," Congressman Dicks said in a press release. "Future generations will benefit from the increased protection of the watersheds and forests that make the Peninsula such a magnificent place. We will be continuing to gather public input as the process moves forward, taking into consideration economic development on the Peninsula as well as the protection of Tribal treaty rights."

The actual text of the proposal was not immediately available this morning. But a joint press release from the federal lawmakers includes language nearly identical to that being used by environmental and conservation groups, who have been pitching the Wild Olympics Campaign for the past year.

The added protection is controversial on the Olympic Peninsula. The environmental community sees added protection around the park while the timber community calls the proposal a "land grab" that threatens jobs.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, says he's still opposed to the Wild Olympics Campaign.

"I think it's not a balanced proposal and is a slap in the face to a community with the highest unemployment rate in the state," Blake said this morning. "We need jobs and we need them now."

Four public workshops around the Olympic Peninsula have been organized by the offices of Murray and Dicks between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4. The only workshop on the Harbor is 3 to 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Central Elementary School Library, 310 Simpson Ave. in Hoquiam.

The press release states that the concept, pitched by Murray and Dicks as an "Olympic watersheds protection proposal," would:

* "Designate roughly 130,000 acres of new wilderness on Forest Service Land."

* "Add 23 rivers within public land ownership to the Wild and Scenic River System."

* "Provide the opportunity for Olympic National Park to purchase up to 20,000 acres through a willing buyer, willing seller process for addition as a preserve to the Park. Currently, the National Park cannot purchase land within their General Management Plan without Congressional Action."

* "Protect hunting, fishing and recreational access."

Wild Olympics consultant Al Carter said he was expecting the press release to come but hadn't seen the details of the proposal. Carter, the former Grays Harbor County commissioner, said the basic gist from the press release sounds like what the supporters have been advocating.

"Over the past year, we have been gathering information and the proposal includes all of the ideas we've received," Carter said. "This press release and the related town hall meetings are the next steps in talking about this and we want to continue this conversation."

County Commissioner Herb Welch said he's glad there's at least a firm proposal from the Congressman's Office so that now he can take the plan and find out whether his fellow commissioners support it or will join him in opposing it. Commissioners Mike Wilson and Terry Willis both had said they didn't want to have the county oppose or support the Wild Olympics Campaign without Congressman Dicks formally proposing his plan.

"My thoughts are still the same," Welch said. "Why would we expand a government that can't afford itself at the moment? It's still something I don't see the value in."

George Behan, the chief of staff for Congressman Dicks, acknowledged that the Wild Olympics Campaign has become a divisive issue across the Olympic Peninsula.

"We're calling this a proposal that will start a discussion and we're going to be conducting these four public meetings and getting additional input that will help assemble and put the bill in final form," Behan said.

Behan said he didn't think Congressman Dicks would attend the public meetings.

"He intends to be in session during that time," Behan said. "But he wants the community to have some opportunity to have public comment immediately."

Asked if the Congressman intends to do any sort of town hall meeting himself on the topic, Behan said he didn't know at the moment.

Behan said the proposal has not yet been dropped in a bill form in Congress.

"It's much too premature to talk about a timeline," Behan said.

The press release states that the wilderness and National Park expansion proposal was first brought to the Congressional offices two years ago by "several Peninsula-based conservation groups."

"Rep. Dicks and Sen. Murray's staff did extensive outreach on this proposal and have a revised proposal that they would like to seek additional input on from the public," the release states.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Murray was not immediately available for comment this morning.

The press release quotes Murray as saying, "Washington residents take great pride in protecting our state's tremendous natural beauty. I will continue to work with the community as we work to preserve our state's special places while promoting our long-term economic growth and prosperity. I thank Representative Dicks for his leadership in this process, and I look forward to hearing from constituents in the coming months as we put together a proposal that works for our families, communities and state."