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Key Senate Committee Approves Wild Olympics Bill for First Time

Today, the Wild Olympics Coalition cheered a major milestone for the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act sponsored by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06) as it was voted out of the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the first time in the bill’s history. 

Photo: The Hamma Hamma River, Douglas Scott

Press Release from the Wild Olympics Campaign | QUILCENE, Wash. (Dec 14th, 2023)— Today the Wild Olympics Coalition cheered a major milestone for the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act sponsored by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06) as it was voted out of the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the first time in the bill’s history. With a strong foundation of broad local support and the steadfast efforts of the two Congressional leaders, the bill has made steady progress each successive Congress. Last year the bill passed the House with bipartisan support and advanced farther than ever before in the Senate. Today’s Committee vote completes a key step in the Congressional process towards it becoming law.

The Wild Olympics legislation would permanently protect more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries – a total of 464 river miles – as Wild and Scenic Rivers. Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests and salmon streams and enhance outdoor recreation, the legislation would designate the first new wilderness in the Olympic National Forest in nearly four decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.

“The Olympic Peninsula is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes and diverse ecosystems in the entire country, and we have to fight to do everything we can to protect them,” said Senator Murray. “Our bill would preserve the beauty and the rich natural resources that make the Wild Olympics so precious to people from all walks of life, and ensure that future generations have the opportunity to experience the Wild Olympics as we do today. It took years of effort and collaboration among advocates, sportsmen, Tribes, local leaders, and so many others to get to where we are today—passing Wild Olympics through Committee is a big win, and our job now is to keep up the momentum and get this bill to President Biden’s desk.”

Photo: Senator Murray joined local advocates—including WA Wild’s Conservation and Brewshed® Program Manager, Chris Chappell—on a hike to discuss the Wild Olympics Bill in August 2023

“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I learned firsthand that economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand,” said Rep. Kilmer. “I’m heartened to see the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider this practical, balanced strategy that will protect the wildest and most pristine places on the Olympic Peninsula while ensuring we can keep and grow jobs in our natural resource industries and other sectors. And I’m grateful for the years-long collaboration to create a proposal that works for folks across the community – including Tribes, sportsmen, conservation groups, timber communities, business leaders, shellfish growers, and everyone in between.”

I’m heartened to see the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider this practical, balanced strategy that will protect the wildest and most pristine places on the Olympic Peninsula while ensuring we can keep and grow jobs in our natural resource industries and other sectors. —Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06)

Senator Murray and Representative Kilmer spent years gathering extensive community input on the Olympic Peninsula to craft the carefully balanced legislation. It would permanently preserve ancient and mature forests, critical salmon habitat, and sources of clean drinking water for local communities, while also protecting and expanding world-class outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking, camping, boating, hunting, and fishing. No roads would be closed, and trailhead access would not be affected.

Senator Murray and Representative Kilmer worked extensively with local and regional timber interests to remove any currently viable timber base from the proposal to ensure the legislation would have no impact on existing timber jobs, as confirmed in a 2012 Timber Impact Study by the respected independent Forester Derek Churchill.

Photo courtesy of Wild Olympics Campaign

Aberdeen Forest Products Consultant and Former Timber CEO Roy Nott said in his July 10th 2019 testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, “My own experience as a CEO and Entrepreneur is that our area’s natural treasures- which provide world-class outdoor recreation, clean water and our area’s high quality of living- are what give us a competitive edge over other regions in attracting and retaining the talented people new companies require.  Wilderness and wild and scenic river protections would help protect and grow the local jobs that depend on our ability to compete for talent against other regions, and they would enhance our recruitment efforts as we work to grow new businesses in the future. And as a former Timber Industry Executive, I appreciate that Senator Murray and Rep Kilmer’s final compromise proposal was scaled-back to ensure it would not impact current timber jobs.”

The bill’s progress in Congress comes on a recent wave of support and new local endorsements rallying behind the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. The new additions bring the total number of local Olympic Peninsula & Hood Canal region endorsements to more than 800 endorsers, including the Quinault, Quileute, Elwha and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribes; over 30 local sportsmen organizations and fishing guides; the mayors of Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Ocean Shores and other local elected officials; businesses and CEOs; farms and faith leaders; conservation and outdoor recreation groups; and many others. Additionally, more than 12,000 local residents have signed petitions in support.