By Connie Galant
Chair, Wild Olympic Campaign
On June 21, 2012, Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks introduced historic legislation to establish new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River protections on the Olympic Peninsula. If passed, the bill would protect the first new Wilderness designations on Olympic National Forest in nearly 30 years and the first ever Wild and Scenic River designations on the Olympic Peninsula.
This introduced legislation of the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act from Representative Dicks and Senator Murray is a major milestone in the history of Olympic Peninsula conservation. Additional wilderness designations proposed for over 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest would give permanent protection to key ancient forest watersheds and salmon habitat. Wild and Scenic River designations on 19 of the Peninsula’s rivers and their major tributaries (over 464 miles of river) would protect those stretches from dams and other harmful water projects and ensure that the outstanding remarkable values, including steelhead habitat, are protected in perpetuity.
As the chair of the Wild Olympics Campaign, I feel these protections are critical to the long-term health and recovery of Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the wild salmon, steelhead and other wildlife that depend on the health of these water bodies. When the Wild Olympics Campaign coalition was forming, we worked from the premise that if we are going to spend resources and energy to restore what we lost, it just makes economic sense to protect what we have. As we look around our great state and see a serious hydro development proposal on the North Fork Skykomish River and a Forest Service effort to potentially relinquish old growth protections in the Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest, it is clear that the time is now to permanently protect the Wild Olympics. We are lucky that Congressman Dicks and Senator Murray feel the same way.
Along with my volunteer duties as chair of the Wild Olympics, my husband JD and I also volunteer and operate Greenfleet Monitoring Expeditions, an organization studying dissolved oxygen levels in Quilcene and Dabob Bays on the Hood Canal. From the deck of our sailboat, the Sea Turtle, we have logged literally thousands of hours and taken hundreds of samples. Through this time on the water, my resolve and belief in providing additional protections to our Peninsula forests and rivers has only grown stronger.
When we began the Wild Olympics outreach process more than three years ago, our goal was a conservation plan to provide the strongest possible protection for the Olympic Peninsula’s watersheds that was also tailor-made to accommodate the diverse needs of local communities. Paramount to the success of the process was a commitment to extensive and exhaustive community input.
The legislation, based on local feedback, is moving forward with a draft proposal that did not include the Park addition component. The Wild Olympics Campaign, though disappointed, accepted the change and continues to enthusiastically back the modified Congressional plan, which retains over 126,000 acres of critical Olympic National Forest wilderness additions and 19 new Wild and Scenic River designations. The new congressional watershed conservation plan would finally give our ancient forests and free-flowing rivers the permanent, durable protection they deserve. And, as we supported the process, we now support the results.
The legislation would permanently protect such iconic places as South Quinault Ridge and its towering Douglas fir and to salmon and steelhead bearing rivers such as the South Fork Hoh. Wilderness designation will give the strongest possible protection to areas critical to the long term health and recovery of the waterways that surround the Peninsula. In a world of ever increasing hydro threats, protecting key stretches of the Peninsula’s rivers right now as Wild and Scenic may pay dividends further down the line. To summarize, the new plan remains a major milestone in the Olympic Peninsula conservation and a historic accomplishment.
We are incredibly grateful for Congressman Dicks and Senator Murray’s steadfast leadership and tireless efforts in advancing this landmark legislation. It is truly a historic giant step in the long history of Olympic Peninsula conservation.
From our humble beginnings as a group of four all-volunteer Peninsula based conservation groups with a vision and passion, to a robust campaign with six other state and national conservation groups and thousands of local supporters on the Olympic Peninsula, we’ve come a long way. Such a success is in no small part thanks to the efforts and support of literally hundreds of active supporters and volunteer leaders, including the Wild Steelhead Coalition. We are proud to have the support from a variety of those interested in the restoration and protection of our fisheries. Individuals including sports fishing guides like Doug Rose of Forks, WA and from business owners like Bill Taylor, of Taylor Shellfish United.
As we move into summer months, keep an eye out for Wild Olympics events and outings. In the meantime, please spread the word about the Wild Olympics to family, neighbors and friends and take action by signing our on-line petition to protect the Wild Olympics at www.wildolympics.org.
Connie Gallant of Quilcene, WA is the volunteer chair of the Wild Olympics Campaign.
More information on the Wild Olympics can be found at: www.wildolympics.org