Wild Olympics Bill Gets U.S. Senate Hearing
The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act cleared a major hurdle in April 2016 when the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on the bill for the first time.
The Wild Olympics bill was reintroduced by Senator Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer last spring. It will protect permanently 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. If enacted, the legislation would designate the first new wilderness in Olympic National Forest in three decades and the first-ever protected Wild and Scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.
“This step is great news for anyone who enjoys our prized wild spaces, and wants to protect them for generations to come. I am going to keep pushing to move this bill forward,” said Senator Patty Murray.
Both the Forest Service, in oral testimony, and the Park Service, in written testimony, supported the bill. The Park Service requested one important addition, that Wild and Scenic River protection be extended downstream on the Elwha River to include the reach formerly inundated beneath the Glines Canyon Dam and the Lake Mills reservoir and out the free-flowing river to the park boundary.
OPA has been advocating Forest Service Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River protections in the Olympics since 1974. We succeeded in saving some (but not all) outstanding Forest Service wilderness areas in 1984. However, a Wild and Scenic study bill was defeated by timber interests then. This is the first time protection for the Peninsula’s outstanding wild rivers is addressed in pending legislation.
In our letter to the Senate committee, the Wild Olympics Campaign wrote, “These free-flowing rivers and streams are also vital to the long-term health and recovery of Hood Canal and Puget Sound … By granting these natural treasures the permanent protection they lack today, this legislation makes a down payment on the economic future of generations to come.”
Shortly before the hearing, the Wild Olympics Campaign announced more than 100 new endorsements by local Olympic Peninsula business and elected officials. The new additions bring the total number of local businesses, elected officials, faith leaders and sportsmen, and conservation and outdoor recreation groups to more than 550 endorsers.
If you haven’t already, please sign the Wild Olympics petition now .
To see the Wild Olympics Campaign letter in support of the bill, click here. To view the list of Wild Olympics endorsements, click here. For updates and future developments regarding Wild Olympics, check the Wild Olympics website and our OPA website.
2016: National Park Service Centennial
a Critical Year for Olympic National Park
For nearly 70 years, Olympic Park Associates has worked to protect the stunning natural beauty, biological richness, and untrammeled wilderness of Olympic National Park. With your help, we’ve achieved some remarkable successes. Our ongoing efforts continue to be inspired by this extraordinary planetary preserve—and supported by our members’ active engagement.
The centennial year of the National Park Service, 2016, will prove to be a watershed year for continuing protection of Olympic National Park. Monumental decisions affecting the future ecological integrity and wilderness character of the park are about to be made. A long-awaited Wilderness Stewardship Plan will determine how park managers will protect the wilderness quality that defines the heart of the Olympic Mountains. A Mountain Goat Management Plan, on hold since the mid-1990s, will finally address the presence of non-native mountain goats and their impacts on fragile alpine environments in the park. And funding decisions in the coming year will allocate limited, reduced funds across a growing gulf between management and maintenance needs and dramatically reduced staffing.
OPA is actively involved in all these processes. As park managers roll out their preferred courses of action, they—and the congressional representatives who fund them—will need both our support and our strong advocacy in making decisions that put protection of park resources foremost.
Here are OPA’s positions on some key issues—and why we advocate for them.
Olympic is one of America’s foremost wilderness parks. Presently, 10 million people live within a five-hour drive of Olympic. Last year saw 95,000 visitor nights in the Olympic Wilderness. Regulating this number of backpackers is imperative: educating them regarding minimum impacts, guiding where they can camp and build fires, and determining the level of development of trails, bridges, structures, and privies needed to serve them. OPA favors vigorous protection of Olympic’s wilderness character and placing resource protection at the forefront in all cases. As urban populations increase, more and more people will want to experience what Olympic has to offer. A strong wilderness stewardship plan is the best insurance for preserving the park’s outstanding wildness.
Mountain Goat Management Plan
The proliferation of non-native mountain goats is the largest threat to Olympic’s alpine areas, particularly during a time of global warming. The goats’ feeding, trampling, and wallowing behavior is causing acute destructive impacts on sensitive alpine and subalpine environments. Olympic’s rare and endemic plants are affected. Impacts to alpine wildlife, including the endemic Olympic marmots, are unstudied and unknown. OPA strongly advocates removal of all non-native goats from the Olympics.
Government sequesters and draconian budget cuts to national parks have eviscerated visitor services, maintenance, and staff at Olympic. ONP was underfunded by $7.7 million, or 42 percent, in 2014. Visitor center hours and interpretive programs have been reduced significantly. Permanent and seasonal ranger positions have been eliminated. This past summer, rangers were nearly impossible to find in many areas of the Olympic Wilderness, leading to group camping in closed areas, fecal contamination of camp areas, trampling of heather and sensitive vegetation in alpine areas, illegal fires, firearm use, and other destructive activities. OPA continues to pressure Congress to restore full funding, and to lobby park managers for judicious use of limited funds—with resource protection paramount.
Meanwhile – Other Issues
- OPA continues to work for passage of the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act currently before Congress.
- We are actively involved in fighting a Navy proposal to turn the airspace over Olympic National Park and Forest into a warfare training area.
- We are participating in Congressman Kilmer’s Olympic Collaborative that seeks to promote sustainable ecological management of Olympic National Forest.
Don’t Let the “Sound of Freedom”
Swamp the Sound of Wilderness
by Donna Osseward, Chair, OPA, Fall 2015
Will you be hearing babbling brooks and birdsong or the “sound of freedom” in our Olympic Peninsula wilderness areas? The “sound of freedom” is what the Navy calls the roar from its jet planes. In a few weeks, we will know the decision the Forest Service will make on this question, and whether Olympic Park Associates (OPA) and other conservation organizations will be forced to go to court to fight this issue.
The Navy has requested a permit from the Forest Service to use Olympic National Forest land on the western portion of the Olympic Peninsula for an electromagnetic warfare training range. This plan would require jet planes flying over private and public lands, including Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest wilderness areas, and the Washington Islands Wilderness. They would also use the airspace over Quinault, Quileute, and Hoh Reservations; Washington State Department of Natural Resources land; Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary; the Washington Islands National Wildlife Refuges; and thousands of acres of private land, including the towns of Forks and Amanda Park.
Nearly 3.6 million people visit Olympic National Park yearly to enjoy this World Heritage Park. That does not count the people who come to use the Olympic National Forest and other Peninsula tourist attractions. OPA argues that the savings the Navy claims they will enjoy will be negated by the damage to the Olympic Peninsula economy and the quality of life of those living and visiting there.
This training has been happening for many years elsewhere, in Idaho and Nevada. OPA supports the brave people who fight to preserve our freedom but argues that this training is done much better in the other areas already being used for that purpose.
The Army out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) has also started a NEPA process to expand their helicopter training into the Cascades and in areas just south of Olympic National Park. The Army “proposes to establish three off-base helicopter training areas (HTAs) [on the Olympic Peninsula] and one mountain training area (MTA)” (in the Cascades). [SCOPING DOCUMENT, Northwest Aviation Operations, Off-base Helicopter Training Areas, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, June 2015].
If the Navy and Army get permission to conduct warfare training activities on the Olympic Peninsula and in the Cascades, it will set a precedent that will endanger wilderness everywhere. Solitude is one of the most valuable qualities of wilderness. OPA argues that the shock and awe of modern warfare should not be a part of the wilderness experience.
Mapped boundary lines do not prevent sound from traveling through our national parks and wilderness areas. The noise of all of these military flights will not be confined to the areas on their maps but will also expose everyone along the flight path from Whidbey Island or JBLM to the training sites.
The good people in the American military don’t seem to understand that the “sound of freedom” should not be heard everywhere. It’s great to watch and hear for a few days, for a few hours, at Seafair. But the military proposes exposing the people living and visiting the Olympic Peninsula to Navy fighter jet noise 260 days a year, 12–16 hours a day, or to Army helicopters for “24/7, 365 days except for federal holidays.”
Studies have shown direct links between noise and health: high blood pressure, hearing loss, sleep disruption, stress-related illnesses, and reduced productivity. Other studies have demonstrated similar effects on wildlife. Wilderness areas provide relief from the noise of civilization. The militarization of the Olympics is a recipe for excessive stress for the people living and visiting the Olympic Peninsula.
The 95% of Olympic National Park that the U.S. Congress designated as Wilderness is meant to provide these benefits to all who visit the park.
Olympic Park Associates is vigorously opposing the military’s proposed intrusions into our wilderness.
Quiet Area, Bioacoustic Preserve?
A Visionary Proposal for Olympic National Park
by Tim McNulty, Vice President, OPA, Fall 2015
Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, an internationally recognized and Emmy Award-winning natural sounds recorder, and an eloquent advocate for natural quiet. He is well known for his “One Square Inch of Silence,” a place in the heart of Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest that he has shown to be one of the most quiet places on earth.
Hempton considers Olympic one of the least noise-polluted national parks in the U.S., pointing out that it has the greatest diversity of natural soundscapes with the longest noise-free intervals of any park outside Alaska.
And he has a revolutionary idea for Olympic National Park: designating it a “Quiet Area and Bioacoustic Preserve.” It would be the first such acoustic preserve in the world.
Currently there is a “Quiet Zone” in Muir Woods National Monument where the National Park Service asks visitors to voluntarily keep their voices down, turn off their cell phones, and control children.
But Hempton has something larger in mind. He envisions an extensive ecological preserve free of man-made noise. He believes that federal legislation would be required to create a no-fly zone over the park. Further, he thinks it would be a popular cause among visitors to Olympic, where air traffic has tripled over the past 10 years.
With the threat of a Navy Electronic Warfare Range hanging over the park, this might be the time to give Gordon’s proposal serious consideration.