Wild or Working Olympics?


Bill Driscoll, the great grandson of Weyerhaeuser founder Frederick Weyerhaeuser, may have lost his race for Congress in Washington’s 6th District last fall. But the debates started in that race aren’t over.

Driscoll has an op-ed in today’s Seattle Times that prods his former opponent to solidify his stance on the Wild Olympics proposal. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, says he still hasn’t made up his mind on the proposed plan, which would make 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest off-limits to logging and also name 19 rivers and seven tributaries as wild and scenic.

Kilmer’s decision is particularly resonant given that the Olympic National Forest is smack dab in his district and his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, was instrumental in getting the original Wild Olympics plan to Congress last year.

In today’s op-ed, Driscoll said he opposes the plan and that Kilmer should, too, since he’s already said he wants to boost the timber harvest in the Olympic National Forest.

U.S. Rep Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., refused to take a stand on Wild Olympics during the election. However, he did commit, on numerous occasions, to ensuring that the federal government met the promises made about harvest levels to the district over the past 20 years.

These levels have not been met and must be met prior to the designation of any new wilderness areas. By making this the priority, he could set the table for bipartisan progress and offer meaningful hope to the timber communities in his district.

Some timber companies supported an amended version of the Wild Olympics plan last year, so not all timber interests are aligned in opposition.

Driscoll says a major argument made by the project’s architects is misleading. It’s true that the plan as written wouldn’t cost many current jobs in the National Forest, he writes. But that’s only because the U.S. Forest Service isn’t delivering the timber harvest that it promised timber communities. Making so much forestland off-limits to logging will make it impossible for the Olympic Peninsula to ever deliver the federal timber harvest that timber communities deserve, Driscoll says.

Despite the fact that our national forests were established with the express purpose of promoting multiple uses, including timber harvests to support our local communities, harvests have been reduced by roughly 94 percent since 1988. This is well below the standards for sustainable harvests used on state lands and well below levels promised by the federal government.

The impact of this mismanagement is profound. Washington’s timber counties are suffering high unemployment and many people have simply stopped looking for work. Last fall, the unemployment rate was 13 percent in Grays Harbor County and 12 percent in Clallam County, not including those who have stopped looking for work.

I urge those who live in King or Pierce counties not to skip over that number casually: Communities such as Aberdeen, Forks and Port Angeles have been devastated by the loss of timber jobs — and there is no meaningful, short-term employment alternative.

…Wild Olympics is an attempt to close these lands before new leaders have the courage to reform our land-management practices.

Wild Olympics didn’t go anywhere after being introduced in Congress in June 2012, but U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has vowed to reintroduce the legislation this year. The debate will continue.