Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wild Olympics Editorial

Wild Olympics plan protects forests before it's too late

Guest Editorial
Levi Olden and Thomas O'Keefe
The Daily World (Aberdeen, WA)
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Most people agree that protecting our ancient forest watersheds for clean water, salmon and recreation for the future is a worthwhile goal. But they don't want to lose access to their public lands either. Neither do we.
As a local resident and accomplished Eagle Scout, and as an outdoor recreation access advocate, we support the Wild Olympics' watershed conservation plan because it will protect and improve recreational access -- not take it away. That's why we are participating in an inclusive public process to ensure the plan serves the Harbor's different hunting, fishing and recreation needs. We encourage everyone to take part in this conversation.
Thousands of visitors and residents use and enjoy the scenic watersheds of Olympic National Forest each year. They explore the towering old growth rainforests of South Quinault Ridge, hunt elk in forested areas south of the Queets River or fish for salmon on the Humptulips River. These spectacular ancient forests and rivers provide clean water, healthy salmon runs, wildlife habitat and an enduring natural legacy for our children and grandchildren.
Right now, current Forest Service rules prohibit logging, new roads, dams or development for most of these public lands. But Forest Service rules can always change, and we want to see these places remain just the way they are.
The more than 1,000 supporters of the Wild Olympics Campaign in Grays Harbor believe these watersheds deserve permanent, lasting protection for future generations to enjoy them as we do today. To achieve this, the campaign proposes new wilderness, Wild and Scenic River, and willing seller National Park/Preserve safeguards for these natural treasures. With extensive community input, we are working together to adjust boundaries and design a plan that both protects our watersheds and our public access.
The Wild Olympics is a coalition of both conservation and outdoor recreation organizations, including the Mountaineers and American Whitewater, which fight to preserve and enhance outdoor recreational access. That goal has shaped much of the campaign's outreach efforts in the Harbor and other counties on the Peninsula to improve the draft plan for local hunting, fishing, biking and other recreation needs, including the following examples:
The Wild Olympics proposal will not close any roads on Olympic National Forest or Olympic National Park. The proposal does not interfere with the Forest Service plan -- documented on the Forest Service website -- for the 2,200-miles of roads in the forest. The wilderness boundaries are set back from all roads within the plan identified to remain open for public access. The proposal will not affect any of the old roads that have been identified for removal until work is completed. This ensures current vehicle access on Forest Service roads would be unaffected by the Wild Olympics.
Wilderness designation on the National Forest allows hunting and fishing.
Wild and Scenic River designations protect and improve fishing and recreation access. Not only do the designations allow existing recreation use to continue, they protect and enhance recreation through provisions to improve public access for fishing and boating. As an example of this, new public access has been developed on the other Wild and Scenic Rivers in the state: the Skagit River and White Salmon River. Camping, hunting and fishing and vehicle travel are all permitted along these designated rivers.
National Preserves are being considered in place of park additions to preserve important tribal and public hunting areas. If timber companies want to sell land for development and remove it from the timber base, a willing seller provision would provide an option for putting these lands into public ownership, without infringing on private property rights in any way.
Extensive efforts have been made to work with local mountain bike advocates to adjust wilderness boundaries to accommodate mountain bike use, including the West Fork Humptulips and Lower Pete's Creek Trail system.
With respect to trail management and the ongoing delay in restoring the Colonel Bob Trail, we share the frustration. Support for reopening this trail has been universal and it is just a matter of securing the resources -- something we are personally working to accomplish.
Moving forward, we believe that protecting these backcountry jewels is the best way to preserve recreational opportunities and enjoyment of these areas in the future. We encourage everyone to get involved in helping draft the proposal and offer constructive input. By all working together, we can protect not only our forests and rivers for future generations, but also public access to them as well. To learn more, visit
Levi Olden is an Aberdeen Eagle Scout who grew up camping in the forests and along the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula. Thomas O'Keefe is a recreation advocate for American Whitewater and has hunted, fished and kayaked all the major river systems of the Olympic Peninsula.