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Olympic Peninsula wilderness plan is scaled back, but is it a compromise?

Via Office of U. S. Sen. Patty Murray

Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks hit the Olympic Peninsula Thursday, trying to sell locals on a plan to designate more wildernessthere. They say their latest bill is a grand compromise, and they’re hoping to convince Olympic Peninsula communities that fought earlier versions.

The plan would place 126,554 acres of Olympic National Forest under wilderness protection, with more than 5,000 more to be added later. It would also designate 19 rivers, including the newly-wild Elwha, and seven tributaries, as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

That’s scaled back significantly from earlier proposals that would have locked up more land and allowed the National Park to grow. Congressman Dicks said the changes should calm fears. 

“We’ve trued to make this only benefit the area, not do any harm. And we’ll also help protect jobs. So I think we’ve made this much more acceptable to people on the Olympic Peninsula,” Dicks said.

The plan now prioritizes sensitive areas and waterways, particularly those that affect the nearby shellfish industry.

Whether they’re turned around public opinion over nearly three years of negotiations remains to be seen. The Peninsula still teems with signs charging a “land grab.” Carol Johnson of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee said logging interests feel that they still haven’t been truly heard.

“We’re opposing it because we think that’s the only way, if we put up enough opposition, that perhaps they’ll come back and actually sit down and renegotiate,” Johnson said.

If the bill doesn’t pass this year, Norm Dicks won’t be around to shepherd it through again. He’s retiring his seat after 36 years in office.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.