Wild Olympics Part I: Ideas run ‘wild’ around Olympics
By Martha M. Ireland – Column for May 18, 2012 – Peninsula Daily News
Posted June 10, 2012
Part I of II.
Olympic Peninsula, WA – IT’S HARD TO ARGUE with the contention that Olympic Peninsula wilderness should be preserved and protected from development.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray signed on to the Wild Olympics Campaign last year. In the congressional version, dubbed the “Path Forward on Olympic Watersheds Protection,” the proposed National Park expansion was scaled back from 37,000 acres to about 20,000 acres.
At a public meting in Grays Harbor last week, congressional staff assured proponents that Dicks and Murray will continue to push for higher levels of protection, and attempted to placate opponents with news that land acquisition has been dropped from the proposal.
Backing off from park expansion is understandable.
Olympic National Park currently encompasses 922,650 acres—nearly 1,500 square miles—from the Hood Canal view-shed to the Hoh Rainforest, plus 64 miles of Pacific coastline.
Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest, state-managed Trust Lands and private and tribal timberlands cover more than 90 percent of Clallam County’s 1,754 sq. miles.
Under current designations, all other land uses in Clallam County—cities, homes, businesses, industry, public infrastructure and agriculture—jockey for space on the remaining less-than-175 sq. miles. Minus, of course, areas restricted by critical areas, shoreline and other burgeoning regulations.
Jefferson County has at least as large a percentage of its land base tied up in Olympic National Park and forest. The park and forests also cover significant portions of Grays Harbor and Mason counties.
A glance at the map should convince everyone that the Olympic Peninsula simply does not have any capacity for more parkland.
Nevertheless, in this the latest chapter in the long history of Olympic preservation, Wild Olympics advocates bemoan the “loss” of what they hoped to capture, and double down on their demand for higher levels of “protection” for what is already protected.
Protected it is:
- Pres. Grover Cleveland created the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897.
- Pres. Theodore Roosevelt declared alpine and sub-alpine Mount Olympus a National Monument in 1909.
- Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited in 1938 to sign legislation that expanded the protected area and gave it the further protection of national park status.
- Olympic National Park was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1981.
- In 1988, Congress designated 95 percent of the park as the Olympic Wilderness.
The Pacific Ocean off Olympic National Park’s coastal beaches became Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 1994. The sanctuary encompasses 3,189 square miles, and overlays the Flattery Rocks, Quillayute Needles and Copalis Rock National Wildlife Refuges.
Much of the 633,677-acre Olympic National Forest, which surrounds the park, is also designated wilderness, leaving a tiny remnant available for tightly regulated logging.
State-managed trust lands and tribal and privately-owned timberland make up the majority of the non-federal land on the peninsula.
The state-managed lands were specifically set aside to generate revenue to support local government and schools. Together with private timberlands, they were intended to be harvested and replanted in rotation, producing sustainable yields forever.
However, in 1994, timber production was slashed by 95 percent, as a result of the Northwest Forest Plan, which was adopted in the name of preserving spotted owl habitat.
Ever since, the once-working forests have been producing about 5 percent as much timber as they previously generated, with comparable curtailment of revenue and jobs.
Logging has always been prohibited within the park and is now severely restricted outside the park.
Zoning adopted under the state Growth Management Act protects virtually all private forestland in the region from conversion to non-forest uses.
The Elwha River dams have just been torn down and there is zero possibility of more dams being built on the Olympic Peninsula, in or out of the park.
Still, cries for more protection echo like the howl of wolves under a full moon.
Actually, with all the “protection” now in place, the only truly threatened resources on the Olympic Peninsula are private property and the dwindling remnants of working forestland.
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