Wild Olympics passed out of committee; could see floor vote

The Wild Olympics Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has passed out of committee and will be sent to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

At the Full Committee Markup of the Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, Representative Derek Kilmer’s H.R. 2642 was once again on the agenda.

At the previous committee markup in November the bill was removed from discussion and moved to this later date

At this meeting, the bill was seen in discussion and was open for amendments.

Following a number of failed amendments, the bill was put up for vote.

Opposition for the slate of bills being discussed was present at the meeting, and following the vote, Congressman Louie Gohmert issued further dissent.

Following the markup, Representative Kilmer stated “I’m proud to see the House Natural Resources Committee advance 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.”

First introduced in 2012 as the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012, the proposed legislation has gone under a number of iterations to mixed local community reaction.

The legislation was reintroduced in 2014, 2015, and 2017, the current reiteration continues the goals first set out by Sen. Murray and Representative Norm Dicks.

Since the original measure, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has been adjusted in several ways.

Currently, the bill would designate approximately 126,554 acres in the Olympic National Forest as wilderness and designate some rivers in the forest and Olympic National Park as wild and scenic.

The sponsors of the bill say that this designation would provide “myriad benefits to local community and beyond,” giving the area a “competitive edge” over other regions to attract tourism as well as companies and workers looking to be closer to the wilderness.

The bill states that the land designated as wilderness protects “ecological, geological, or other forms of scientific, scenic, or historical value”.

The designations are said to continue to provide access to some non-recreational activities, no roads would be closed, no public land would be subject to the designations, and that it would not create a major impact on the current regional logging industry as 99% of the forests cannot be commercially harvested already under federal law.

In the release they say that the act is designed through “extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water and salmon streams as well as enhance outdoor recreation”.

The Wild Olympics Coalition also released today over 100 new endorsements for the changes to bring the total endorsements regionally to more than 800.

This includes 24th Legislative District Representatives Steve Tharinger and Mike Chapman, the Quinault Indian Nation, Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson, Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler, Elma Mayor Jim Sorensen, multiple local city councilmembers, and various local businesses and groups.

List of Endorsements

The Grays Harbor County Commissioners, Aberdeen City Council, and Cosmopolis City Council have all voted in opposition to the legislation since it was originally introduced.

Bill sponsors have said that the legislation would set aside the first new wilderness on Olympic National Forest in nearly three decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.

The bill will now be passed out of the committee and will be up for consideration for a floor vote and possible passage.