Congressional candidate Bill Driscoll is airing a television commercial about a proposal in Congress known as Wild Olympics.
The Tacoma Republican takes aim at his Democratic opponent, with words on the screen reading “Derek Kilmer says Wild Olympics – the right direction.”
A series of people take turns speaking: “For years, our national forests have been mismanaged. Now politicians like Derek Kilmer want to make it even worse. Their plan will cost us jobs, hurt schools and families. Bill Driscoll opposes Wild Olympics. Bill Driscoll has over 20 years of experience in the forest-products industry and he supports a normal timber harvest. Bill Driscoll’s plan will bring thousands of jobs back to our community.”
Driscoll, a descendant of Weyerhaeuser’s founder and a former executive with the company, has been critical of the proposal to expand wilderness protections in the Olympic National Forest, mostly because of what it does not do. He said the federal government should agree to allow a larger overall timber harvest before closing more lands to logging.
Lawmakers must be “willing to stop and say no, until you renegotiate the harvest level,” Driscoll said.
He wants to renegotiate the rules of the Northwest Forest Plan, the deal approved in the Clinton administration after fights in timber country over protection of the spotted owl. Specifically, Driscoll points to an existing prohibition in much of the forest on logging in tree stands more than 80 years old and restrictions on how much can be cut in younger areas.
Kilmer, a state senator from Gig Harbor, also says the federal government should allow more logging, but he focuses not on changes to the forest plan but on making sure officials live up to the harvest levels predicted in the plan.
“They haven’t met the level that they promised years ago,” he said.
Kilmer didn’t fully embrace the Wild Olympics plan but did praise the concept of environmental protections that he said would help seafood industries.
“I was concerned with the initial plan. I think the revised proposal is fundamentally different and takes some steps to safeguard jobs and property rights while helping salmon recovery and the shellfish industry. So in that regard I think it’s moving in the right direction,” he said. “Nevertheless, I think our natural-resource industries deserve a stronger commitment from the federal government to meet harvest levels.”
Rep. Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray, both Washington Democrats, introduced the Wild Olympics legislation in June. It would set aside 126,000 acres of national forest land as wilderness that is protected from development and commerce. It would put further limits on development by designating 26 rivers or tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Kilmer didn’t write the plan. In fact, he has avoided taking a clear stand for or against it. He says he will take part in shaping it if voters send him to Congress.
He has repeatedly used the phrase “the right direction” to compare the latest version of the plan with an earlier version that would have had more effects on private landowners.
A consultant’s report on the earlier version of the plan found it would remove between 2.2 percent and 3.7 percent of the forest’s timber base, depending on how it’s counted. Supporters characterize that as minor and note that much of the area to be protected is already off-limits to logging.
Still, it’s reasonable to assume taking land out of production would reduce jobs in the timber industry. Whether that would be offset by jobs in other industries that depend on clean water is difficult to guess.
A share of revenues from federal timber sales goes to schools, which could see some effects.
Driscoll’s promise to create thousands of jobs hinges on increasing the timber harvest.
The swath of federal land affected by the Northwest Forest Plan was home to 619 million board feet of timber that was sold in fiscal 2009, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That’s well short of the plan’s original prediction of 1.1 billion board feet a year.
In fiscal 2011, 20.4 million board feet came from Olympic National Forest, which has been fairly steady in recent years after a drop-off from heights of 406 million feet in 1983 and 212 million in 1988, both before the forest plan.
Driscoll said he would seek to increase that to the equivalent of harvest levels seen on state lands, “targeting something in the 150-million-board-feet-a-year range,” he said. It’s true the harvest levels are much higher on state trust land.
He says he would insist on such an increase as part of any wilderness expansion. Accomplishing that would require a dramatic shift in policy that would face major opposition from those who believe higher levels of logging are no longer sustainable.
And going through with it would depend on demand for forest products, which is outside Congress’ control.
The ad falsely implies Kilmer is responsible for the Wild Olympics plan. However, it also quotes accurately from a statement that is the closest he has come to a position on the proposal.
The ad’s predictions about the effects of the plan and Driscoll’s own ideas have a factual basis, but leave out important context.