By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014, also known as Wild Olympics legislation, contains wilderness protection measures that were jointly introduced in 2012 by Murray, D-Bothell, and former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, Kilmer's 6th Congressional District predecessor.
In 2013, it was introduced by Murray alone.
Kilmer said then that he wanted to consult more with timber industry and environmental groups before making a decision.
The new legislation, like the original bill, would ban logging on 126,554 acres of the 633,000-acre Olympic National Forest.
Kilmer said in a statement released Thursday that he is convinced the proposal will not have an impact on the national forest's timber harvest.
“After conversations with the Forest Service and timber industry, I'm convinced that nearly all Forest Service land proposed for wilderness would never be commercially harvested and that these designations won't harm the timber industry,” said Kilmer, a Port Angeles native and Gig Harbor Democrat whose district includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“That said, I also understand the views of those concerned that more needs to be done to responsibly increase harvest in our federal forests. I agree.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Kilmer cited the following changes compared with earlier proposed legislation:
■ Language in the bill makes it clear that the wilderness designation will not result in additional road closures.
All forest system roads are excluded from the designation.
■ Wilderness and wild-and-scenic-rivers designations will not affect private landowners' rights to manage their property “in any way.”
■ Wilderness and wild-and-scenic-rivers designations cannot be expanded administratively by the Forest Service.
■ Language was added to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service's ability to fight forest fires and insect infestations is not diminished.
The legislation also designates 19 rivers and seven tributaries in Olympic National Forest, Olympic National Park and state Department of Natural Resources land as wild and scenic.
The benefits of the legislation include protection of forests, rivers, scenery, drinking-water sources, salmon and steelhead habitat and shellfish-dependent rivers and streams, according to a fact sheet issued by Kilmer's office.
An additional 5,346 acres of the national forest can become wilderness if the Forest Service restores the land under existing management plans.
Murray spokesman Sean Coit said the legislation refines rather than revises the 2012 and 2013 bills.
Ever since he first ran for office in 2012, Kilmer has held back from taking a position on the legislation.
As late as a Nov. 1 open house at the Guy Cole Convention Center, he urged a balance between protection and production.
In December, he announced the formation of the Olympic Peninsula Collaborative, a coalition of 16 forestry and environmental groups whose goal is to increase timber harvest in the national forest consistent with the Northwest Forest Plan in response, he said, to concerns that the harvest must be increased.
“For me, revitalizing the economy and protecting the environment have been and will be an ongoing discussion, and frankly, introducing the bill does not end the conversation, either,” Kilmer said Thursday in a telephone interview.
The proposal “supports the foundation of conservation developed over generations,” Murray said in a statement.
“This legislation is a step in the right direction to protect our most treasured places for our kids and grandkids, and I look forward to working with Congressman Kilmer to pass this bill into law.”
Fewer than 800 acres, or less than 1 percent, of the proposed wilderness area are viable harvest areas, according to a summary of the proposal issued by Kilmer's office.
The timber industry has been opposed to the elimination of any working forests.
Carol Johnson, executive director of the industry-oriented North Olympic Timber Action Committee, would not comment on the bill.
“If they made changes in it, I think it's fair to look at the changes before I make a comment,” Johnson said.
“It's a little surprising it came forward early this year,” she added. “That tells me he's been working on this for a while.
“I would not have expected that just as he was getting the collaborative going that he would make an announcement like that.”
The collaborative has met once, with no other meetings of the full committee scheduled, though subcommittee meetings are planned, Kilmer spokesman Stephen Carter said Thursday.
Wild Olympics Campaign Chairwoman Connie Gallant of Quilcene added that she was “thrilled” about its reintroduction.
“I think this is going to benefit everyone, and I'm just thrilled because Kilmer has been incredibly diligent on not only doing his research but on the outreach to everyone on the Peninsula, from opponents to supporters to business people to elected officials.”
Kilmer said he has spoken about the bill to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Spokane.
“He is very focused on the harvest side of the conversation,” Kilmer said.
“I told him that's an interest in our community as well.”
Gallant predicted it had little chance of passage this year, an election year for House members.
“As much as I'd like to be incredibly optimistic about it passing this session, I don't see that happening, but who knows?” she said.
Kilmer, too, was not optimistic, framing the bill's chances in a broad context.
“We've just come off the least-productive Congress in modern history,” he said.
“There's not a lot of legislation, period, that is moving through Congress right now.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.