The U.S. House of Representatives, on a 227–200 vote, has passed legislation that would add 1.5 million acres to America’s wilderness preservation system plus 1,000 miles of waterways to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
The bill contains a carefully worked out good deed in Washington. It would designate an additional 126,000 acres of wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula and put portions of nineteen streams under protection of the wild rivers law.
“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I learned first-hand that economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand,” said U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer, D‑Washington, who worked out the Wild Olympics proposal and represents the state’s 6th Congressional District.
He did so with such skill that more than eight hundred business, environmental, and civic organizations have endorsed the plan.
Th protection of wild places in the Olympics have been – at least for one hundred and ten years – a bipartisan cause.
President Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to create a 450,000-acre Olympic National Monument, to stop the slaughter of elk that now bear his name.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the Peninsula in 1937.
He was persuaded on the need for a national park after observing clear cuts on national forest land. Observing one horrific cut, FDR said he would like to get his hands around “the son-of-a-bitch who did this.”
The park’s coastal strip was added under President Truman. Shi Shi Beach and Lake Ozette became part of the park under legislation championed by Governor Dan Evans and signed by President Ford. President Reagan signed the 1984 Washington Wilderness Bill that included 80,000-plus acres of the donut-shaped Olympic National Forest, which surrounds the national park.
The Peninsula has even seen rival hikes in service of the same cause.
The 2016 Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant led a Teddy Roosevelt-themed hike opposing Trump regime plans to open offshore waters to oil leasing. Weeks later, Attorney General Bob Ferguson led Democrats up the Olympic Coast to honor FDR’s creation of the park, and William O. Douglas’ beach backpacks in opposition to a proposed coastal highway.
That bipartisan tradition ended today.
All three Republicans in Washington’s congressional delegation – Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse and Jamie Herrera Beutler – voted against the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act.
All seven of the state’s Democratic House members supported it.
Voting Aye: Democratic Representatives Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal, Kim Schrier, Adam Smith, Marilyn Strickland (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republican Representative Mike Simpson (ID)
Voting Nay: Republican Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler, Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Cliff Bentz (OR), Russ Fulcher (ID), Matt Rosendale (MT), Don Young (AK)
Idaho’s Mike Simpson was one of just eight Republicans nationwide to back the bill, and the only Republican from the Pacific Northwest to vote aye.
”This legislation will protect and preserve our public lands while also promoting outdoor recreation, a balance many Washingtonians will appreciate,” said U.S. Representative Kim Schrier, D‑Washington. The legislation preserves “the last (unprotected) remaining acres of ancient and mature forest on the Olympic Peninsula,” added U.S. Representative Adam Smith, D‑Washington.
If you ever stop at the Lake Quinault Lodge, accessible from U.S. Highway 101, dine in its Roosevelt Room. It was here that FDR gazed out on the Olympic rainforest and committed to a park protecting it.
The Wild Olympics plan protects forests on buttes overlooking Lake Quinault.
Once upon a time, the logging industry mobilized workers to denounce plans to “lock up” forests. It was joined by pro-industry University of Washington forestry professors, memorably labeled “biostitutes” by the late KING-TV pundit Bob Simmons. The biostitutes complained about all the old growth “wasted” by putting the Bogachiel and Calawah Rivers into the national park.
But business on the Peninsula is now boosting Wild Olympics.
“It protects the rivers and streams vital to the health of our hatcheries and to the health and restoration of Puget Sound: Our oyster beds depend on the clean, cold, silt-free water that drains off Olympic National Forest into Hood Canal,” said Bill Taylor, president of Taylor Shellfish Farms.
Washington is home to four million acres of federally designated wilderness along with nearly two hundred miles of protected rivers (the lion’s shake in the “Magic Skagit” river system of northwest Washington), U.S. Representative Rick Larsen, D‑Washington, noted Friday. Protected lands help support a $26.2 billion outdoor recreation economy in the Evergreen State.
Wild Olympics is cosponsored in the Senate by U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D‑Washington. Murray’s Republican colleagues have the votes to block the larger Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act.
That’s because sixty votes are currently required to break a filibuster.
Yet, throughout her career, Senator Murray has demonstrated an aptitude for getting public lands protected. She guided the Wild Sky Wilderness bill through Congress and onto George W. Bush’s desk for signature. She persuaded an obdurate Representative Doc Hastings to free up protection of the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River and Alpine Lakes Wilderness additions. She persuaded the Clinton Administration to create the Hanford Reach National Monument.
She’s less accessible these days, but has a telltale gesture of determination, putting hands to her temples and saying: “I want this to get done.”
It’s that time again.