Wild Olympics bill passes House again; will face Senate vote

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 999). 

The bill, first introduced in 2012 as the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012, has been modified over the years by Representative Derek Kilmer and Senator Patty Murray, and has faced a mixed local community reaction.

In 2020, the bill also passed out of the House before failing to move forward.

This bill, introduced by Representative Kilmer (WA-06) passed the House with bipartisan support as part of a package of bills called the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, would permanently protect more than 126,000 acres of public land as Wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers. 

In addition, the bill would provide critical protections for salmon and steelhead habitat, and clean drinking water for local communities, while enhancing opportunities for the outdoor recreation community.

“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I learned first-hand that economic growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand,” said Representative Kilmer, who spoke on the House floor on Thursday to encourage his colleagues to pass the legislation. “I’m proud to see the House pass this practical, balanced strategy, that will protect the wildest and most pristine places on the Peninsula while ensuring we can keep and grow jobs in our natural resource industries and other sectors. I am grateful for the years-long collaboration to create a proposal that works for folks across the community – including Tribes, sportsmen, conservation groups, timber communities, business leaders, shellfish growers, and everyone in-between.”

“I’m thrilled to see the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild Scenic Rivers pass the House this week—an important step in ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy the Olympic Peninsula’s vital resources and beauty,” said Senator Murray. “I applaud Representative Kilmer, local tribes, community leaders, sportsmen, and countless Olympic Peninsula residents for their tireless efforts to get to this point, and I am committed to keeping up the fight in the Senate to ensure this critical legislation becomes law and our prized and pristine wilderness is protected.” 

The legislation was modified over the years following input from local communities, business, and other stakeholders. 

“I am proud to support Representative Kilmer’s Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This landmark legislation protects rare wilderness that has been treasured for centuries, while ensuring that natural resource jobs will continue to support Washington’s rural communities,” said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz in a letter to Rep. Kilmer last year.

“It is easy to see and understand the ecological value of the Wild Olympics idea, conserving clean and free flowing rivers, but what is sometimes missed is the economic value that maintaining places like Wild Olympics brings by attracting people to the special outdoors of the Olympic region,” said State Representative Steve Tharinger, 24th Legislative District. “I want to thank REI and Patagonia for engaging local community leaders like myself to help design the map, and for recognizing that encouraging people to get out and enjoy the special places in the Wild Olympics proposal brings economic benefits to the communities I represent.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray will introduce a companion bill in the Senate.