Standing alongside the Big Quilcene River Aug. 22, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said it would take several years to pass legislation that would designate portions of the Big Quilcene, Duckabush and …
Standing alongside the Big Quilcene River Aug. 22, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said it would take several years to pass legislation that would designate portions of the Big Quilcene, Duckabush and Dosewallips rivers as Wild and Scenic, the highest level of government protection for rivers.
Murray was joined by U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer, Port Townsend City Councilor Michele Sandoval, Olympic Parks Associates Vice President Tim McNulty, fourth generation Taylor Shellfish farmer Bill Taylor, and Olympic Forest Coalition Board President Connie Gallant.
All took to the woods for statements of commitment to the long-term success of the "Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2014".
The bill was introduced in January by Murray and Kilmer simultaneously in their respective houses.
It would convert 126,554 acres of Olympic National Forest land to wilderness areas available for hiking, hunting, fishing and recreational use, and preserve 16 other Olympic Peninsula rivers.
Private land is specifically excluded from the act's wilderness designation, and existing water and tribal rights are not affected. Federal agencies would retain the ability to protect and control for fire, insects and diseases.
"To me, the exciting thing about this is where this trail has led is to a proposal that demonstrates that the idea of protecting our most environmentally sensitive areas and growing economic prosperity and growing jobs are not mutually exclusive. That, to me, is very inspiring," said Kilmer.
"This bill will protect the city's greatest natural resource, its watershed," said Sandoval. The public water system owned by the City of Port Townsend and maintained primarily by Port Townsend Paper Corp., relies on the Big Quilcene River. "It nourishes us, and we need to protect it, not only for us and for our current community, but for future generations. It's of vital importance to our community and Port Townsend."
McNulty, a noted author, shared hiking experiences and commented on the significance of Olympic wilderness for visitors, both local and from around the world.
Shellfish has been a resource in the area for generations, and demand is increasing, said Taylor, whose firm has grown to employ 550 people, including jobs in Jefferson County.
"Water quality is essential to our wellbeing as a shellfish industry," he said. "The shellfish industry is very supportive of this effort."
Sen. Murray emphasized that passage of the bill will take lots of work.
"This is a national treasure. It just doesn't get any better than this," said Murray, "and if we don't act, and if we don't push to do this, we can't guarantee what this will be like 50 to 100 years from now."
Moving to a luncheon at the Timberhouse restaurant in Quilcene, Morgan Colonel, owner and operator of Olympic Raft and Kayak in Port Angeles, joined the group to speak on the importance of the bill to recreational businesses.
Although supporters contend that measures have been taken to address concerns from within the peninsula's logging industry, and that bi-partisan support has been achieved, the key factor in moving the legislation forward is overcoming political deadlock in Washington, D.C.