New Wilderness on The Olympic Peninsula?
The proposal for 126,500 acres of new wilderness includes a non-wilderness buffer around Lena Lake to preserve trail and user access by large groups. Photo by efheinitz.
Yesterday, Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced new legislation that sets out to permanently protect more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries (464 river miles in all) as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The current area designated as wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula totals 950,000 acres, composed mostly of Olympic National Park (876,000 acres) and five wilderness areas hugging the south and east sides of the park: Colonel Bob, Wonder Mountain, Mount Skokomish, The Brothers and Buckhorn (totaling 88,000 acres).
The new legislation would push the wilderness acreage to more than 1 million by creating nine new areas and adding acres to the five current areas. The legislation also designates 19 new Wild and Scenic Rivers running across National Park, National Forest and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands.
The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012 (H.R. 5995 and S. 3329) was a labor of love for Washington State wilderness advocates. It involved a great deal of public outreach by Senator Murray and Congressman Dicks, including to diverse recreation users and the tribes. Both Members of Congress and organizations involved in creating the proposal took pains to preserve existing access to Olympic National Park and the potential new wilderness areas. They started by setting wilderness boundaries back at least 200 feet from existing roads, which would allow roads damaged by washouts to be rerouting. They did the same for damaged or washed-out roads slated to reopen.
Advocates for the proposal went one step further and created a non-wilderness buffer around Lena Lake and its access trail. The buffer preserves access to the trail and lake by large groups, such as scouts. Finally, Wild and Scenic River designation provides for continued road access, and in many cases it preserves access by developing new river opportunities for kayakers and other water users.
If enacted, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic River Act of 2012 would be the first new wilderness on Olympic National Forest in nearly three decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic peninsula.
You can read more about the news from our news partner, The Seattle Times.