U.S. House passes Wild Olympics bill with public-lands package

  • Fri Mar 5th, 2021 2:09pm
  • News

By Leah Leach

Olympic Peninsula News Group

Now it’s up to the U.S. Senate.

Congressman Derek Kilmer’s Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has passed the House as part of a package that includes seven other bills.

Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act package was approved by a vote of 227-200 on Friday, with eight Republicans and all but one Democratic lawmaker supporting it.

The package now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, has filed a companion bill, Kilmer said.

Murray worked with Rep. Norm Dicks on the first version of Wild Olympics in 2012. She and Kilmer have led the attempt for passage of the bill, which has evolved over the years.

The latest incarnation is the same as last year’s version, which passed the House but failed in the Senate.

Wild Olympics would designate more than 126,000 acres of public land as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries on the Olympic Peninsula as wild and scenic rivers. The aim is to permanently protect the last remaining acres of ancient and mature forests on the Peninsula.

Over the years, “we have made a number of changes,” said Kilmer, a Democrat living in Gig Harbor who grew up in Port Angeles. He represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

“We did public outreach to the timber community, business leaders, tribes, shellfish growers to create a bill that works for local communities.”

The proposal reflects feedback provided by local and regional timber interests to ensure the legislation would have no impact on the harvestable timber base in the national forest, Kilmer said.

It would not expand Olympic National Park nor close, decommission or otherwise restrict access to any existing forest service roads or trailheads.

It would not affect any private property rights, and it would not impact how the state Department of Natural Resources manages state-owned lands.

“I am proud to support Representative Kilmer’s Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” said Hilary Franz, state Commissioner of Public Lands, in a letter to Kilmer last year.

“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,” her letter said.

The bill is now formally supported by more than 800 community leaders — Republicans and Democrats, business owners, sportsmen, mayors, county commissioners, shellfish business owners and tribal leaders, Kilmer said.

“As someone who grew up on the Peninsula, I know how important our public lands are to the fabric of our communities,” he said Friday.

“To me, protecting these areas isn’t just about saving them for future generations. It’s about jobs. Protecting good jobs and creating good jobs.”

The natural beauty and recreational opportunities on the Peninsula “have helped create opportunities to local entrepreneurs who have started restaurants, guided tour companies, hotels and other small businesses,” Kilmer said.

“In addition to protecting recreational access and supporting our outdoor economy, this bill will also bolster our region’s efforts to protect sources of clean drinking water, support critical salmon and steelhead habitat, and protect key waterways that are vital to our shellfish industry,” he said on the House floor Thursday.

“And after years of collaboration, I think this bill we’re considering today represents a clear win-win for the communities I represent.”

In addition to the Wild Olympics bill, the package passed Friday also included protections in Arizona, California and Colorado as well as in Washington state.

Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act is made up of eight public-lands bills spanning 2.7 million acres and more than 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers.

Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected]