Wild Olympics moves ahead with important changes

2012-05-08 Ashley Bach

The “Wild Olympics” campaign to expand the borders of Olympic National Park in Washington has been waged for years. But timber companies were rightly wary of the proposal because it would have taken valuable land out of potential harvest. Now there is some good news to report.

The leaders of the campaign, as well as U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray, have reached an agreement with timber leaders to remove the section of the Wild Olympics proposal that would have allowed landowners to sell their land to the U.S. government to expand the park. Most concerned about the proposal were three timber companies with holdings in the area: Green Crow, Rayonier and Merrill & Ring.

Now the national park can’t expand without an act of Congress, and other parts of the Wild Olympics plan, including protection of 130,000 acres of park wilderness and 19 park rivers, will move forward.

Supporters of the plan said they were disappointed in the failure of the park expansion but that preservation of the wilderness and rivers was equally important.

Norm Schaaf, vice president of Merrill & Ring, told the Peninsula Daily News that his company would support the plan now that the park expansion had been removed. The expansion plan, even though it didn’t require landowners to sell, “would have created expectations in customers that there could be reductions in valuable forest timber supply,” Schaaf said.

He praised Murray and Dicks “for considering the concerns we brought forward and for coming up with what we believe is a reasonable compromise solution.”

…“We are trying to grow our land base,” Schaaf said.

“Merrill & Ring is trying to expand, not shrink.”

Schaaf added that the acreage that would be designated as wilderness and taken out of timber production “would not have any significant reduction in timber harvest from what it is currently.”

Connie Gallant, the head of the Wild Olympics campaign, said in a statement that, “even without the Park addition component, the current proposal remains a major milestone in the history of Peninsula conservation.”

The revised plan, Gallant said, “provides durable and permanent safeguards for the Peninsula’s most priceless natural treasures: our towering ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, critical fish and wildlife habitat, and our clean water.”