To save our last, best places

Conservationists make great ancestors. Booth Gardner’s adage may comfort Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Derek Kilmer, who introduced their Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act on Friday.

Wilderness battles, even ones as scrutinized and sensible as this, leave their share of political bruises (when hurting, see “great ancestors” wisdom above.)

“This legislation is a step in the right direction to protect our most treasured places for our kids and grandkids, and I look forward to working with Rep. Kilmer to pass this bill into law,” Murray said in a statement.

The Murray-Kilmer bill is the latest iteration of a proposal originally floated by former Rep. Norm Dicks and Murray, and it reflects the intense push-pull of stakeholder negotiations. Like Murray’s Wild Sky Wilderness Act, user groups are largely happy with zero road closures and curtailing negative impacts to mechanized and mountain-bike use. The bill already has been endorsed by the Evergreen and International Mountain Bicycling Associations. (OK, Peninsula loggers don’t give a hoot about mountain bikers or other perceived elites. But they also shouldn’t buy the industry cant that ancient forests already administratively protected would get harvested absent this bill.)

The Wild Olympics reflects multiple concessions. Existing U.S. Forest Service roads were yanked from the proposed wilderness to ensure access, for example. Kilmer, who succeeded Dicks, has been circumspect, huddling with constituents, industry and interest groups before signing on this year.

“This proposal is part of a practical, balanced economic development strategy to not only protect the natural beauty of our area for generations to come, but to help attract businesses to our region and help them stay, grow and invest for the future,” Kilmer said in a statement. Kilmer prefaced his comments by trumpeting his support for increased harvests in federal forests.

The Murray-Kilmer bill designates 126,000 acres of existing federal land as wilderness, a belt that hems parts of Olympic National Park. Much of it is redundant, protecting mature, National Forest habitat unlikely to encounter a choker or chain saw.

The proposal’s heart is the designation of 19 rivers, including the Duckabush, Dosewallips and the Elwha, as Wild and Scenic rivers. Protecting these remaining free-flowing salmon rivers from federally licensed dams represents a lasting legacy.

The Wild Olympics may take years to pass, particularly in the do-nothing U.S. House. In protecting the Northwest’s last, best places, however, patience is a virtue.

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