Congressional Offices Announce Proposal for Wild Olympics (WA)
By: Thomas O'Keefe
Since their formal announcement in mid-November, Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks have been soliciting input on their draft conservation proposal for the Olympic Peninsula to establish new Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and provide an opportunity for targeted Olympic National Park preserve additions through a willing-buyer, willing-seller process. The proposal would protect some of the most critical landscapes on the Olympic Peninsula. While the draft Congressional proposal does not include all the elements of the original conservation and recreation community proposal that American Whitewater worked to develop with a number of local partners, it is a significant and historic milestone for Olympic Peninsula conservation. The draft proposal Congressman Dicks and Senator Murray have put forth would provide durable, permanent safeguards for the Peninsula's most priceless natural treasures: the towering ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, critical fish and wildlife habitat, and clean water.
American Whitewater has been a part of this campaign given our long history of advocacy for conservation and restoration of the Olympic Peninsula Rivers. A number of our members live on the Olympic Peninsula for the easy access to some great paddling and opportunities for backcountry recreation. Many more travel there to enjoy the spectacular rivers that provide some of the finest backcountry whitewater paddling in the country. While the majority of the rivers currently enjoy administrative protection as eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers through the Olympic National Forest Plan and Olympic National Park General Management Plan, only Congress can make this protection permanent. The status of the rivers in these plans requires the agencies to manage the rivers in a manner that protects their unique and regionally significant values, but we are witnessing a concerning trend where developers are starting to explore new sites for hydro development on some of the most pristine free-flowing river systems in the region that are highly valued by our community. Wild and Scenic designation will keep these rivers free-flowing to protect the recreational opportunities they provide while also benefiting the salmon that return to spawn. Because many of these rivers are recognized for their recreation values, the designation will lead to more formal recognition of activities like whitewater kayaking and protection and enhancement of key access points.
The initial conservation vision was developed with input from constituents and stakeholders in order to preserve these sensitive areas while maintaining working forests on the Peninsula. We are pleased to see strong local support for the effort with thousands of Peninsula residents joining in to support river and watershed conservation. Local businesses, farms, faith leaders, hunting and fishing groups, elected officials, conservation and civic groups have all joined on in support of the Wild Olympics.
You can help by letting Senator Murray and Congressman Dicks know of your support by describing your personal connection to these rivers and telling them why conserving them is important.