Wild Olympics, the Olympic National Forest and Family Wage Jobs

Wild Olympics, the Olympic National Forest and Family Wage Jobs

By Carol Johnson, Executive Director of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee

The Olympic Peninsula has been blessed by having some of the fastest growing and ecologically diverse forests in the world. Carsten Lien, in his 1991 book “Olympic Battleground – The Power and Politics of Timber Preservation” chronicle’s the 117 year battle between local economic and regional/national ecological interests over how to manage these forests. For over 100 years various presidential administrations and congresses fought over protection vs. harvest.

As a result we now have essentially four broad categories of timber land ownership— each with a different vision of how to balance ecological and economic values and products. Today the 900,000+ acre Olympic National Park (ONP), through wilderness management, provides predominately ecological benefits and tourism economic benefits.

The 600,000+ acre Olympic National Forest (ONF), up until the Endangered Species Act listing of the Northern Spotted Owl, provided hundreds of family wage jobs, habitat for early successional species like deer and elk, and a multitude of recreational opportunities.

The state trust lands, managed by the Department of Natural Resources, provide protections for multiple species of plants and animals and revenue for school construction and junior taxing districts. Private timberlands provide protections for Endangered Species Act listed species and other species along with important family wage jobs.

While each of these timberland estates are independent and managed under differing polices and plans they are inter-connected (except ONP) a common infrastructure of logging companies, mills and markets.

After the 1992 Endangered Species Act listing of the Northern Spotted Owl, the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was implemented by the Clinton Administration. The NWFP was designed to address both economic and ecologic issues for all national forests in the range of the Spotted Owl. Each national forest was subdivided into areas for different ecologic and economic benefits.  Areas for normal commercial timber harvest are called Matrix Forest.

Unlike other national forests, the Olympic National Forest (ONF) had no Matrix Forest. Additionally, the NWFP has an 80 year harvest-age threshold even for those areas identified for ecologic restoration harvest.  Consequently, mills closed, many jobs were lost and many families were displaced. With each passing decade trees reach the 80 year threshold and become ineligible for harvest.

In the next two decades approximately 50,000 acres will pass this threshold. After three more decades virtually all of the ONF will be ineligible for timber harvest.

The lack of Matrix Forest and the 80 year harvest threshold are important to understanding the pending “Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012”(S3329) and the North Olympic Timber Action Committee Working Forest alternative.  It also helps demonstrate why the “Olympic Peninsula Collaborative,” recently announced by Congressman Kilmer, is a very small and very inadequate step towards fixing the unfortunate economic and ecological consequences of the NWFP.

S3329 changes the Northwest Forest Plan by identifying 122,780 acres of ONF for wilderness. Since most, but not all, of these acres are already beyond 80 years old, there will be little immediate impact on existing family wage jobs. However, this act does nothing to restore the family wage job losses caused by the NWFP.

The Olympic Peninsula Collaborative is an effort to provide a short term supply of logs to help maintain local mill, logging companies and forestry sector jobs within the NWFP. It does not address the increasing dearth of early successional habitat. While the North Olympic Timber Action Committee fully supports this effort we see it as a strategic distraction from seeking the family wage jobs, economic benefits and ecological diversity from the other several hundred thousand acres of ONF—most of which have roads and have been previously harvested.

The North Olympic Action Committee’s proposed “Working Forest” alternative will provide both the ecological benefits from wilderness designation and economic benefits of Matrix Forest designation. It includes most of the wilderness and wild and scenic river designations in S3329 and in addition includes 143,150 acres for Matrix Forest. It identifies more acres because 40% or more of this Matrix Forest will still be restricted from timber harvest in order to provide various stream, unstable slope and other special habitat protections. Selection of the 143,150 acres was based on local knowledge of areas that have existing road systems and that have previously been harvested.

We estimate that the addition of this Matrix Forest could restore 700 family wage jobs around the Olympic Peninsula. Additionally, it would provide the long term supply of timber necessary to encourage capital investment in mill expansion and expensive logging equipment. These investments will have an additional positive effect on both state trust and private timberland revenues.

We are starting a sign campaign to demonstrate the local opposition to the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and to promote our Working Forest alternative.
For more information contact us at 360.452.6645 or visit our website NOTAC.ORG


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