Win for environment: Timber sale on Elwha River canceled
Tim Wheeler/PW

PORT ANGELES, Washington – In celebration of “World Rivers Day” last September 24, a bunch of us heeded the call of Elizabeth Dunne, a leader of Earth Law Center, and gathered for a walk on a trail to the Elwha River.

We were protesting plans to log the so-called “Power Plant” tract, 68 acres of timberland so near the banks of the Elwha you could easily throw a rock and it would land in the river.

Logging this tract so near the Elwha river was an arrogant, ignorant, insult to taxpayers who paid $350 million to remove two century-old dams on the Elwha 10 years ago. Those dams were the cause of the extinction of several species of salmon upstream from the dams.

Since the dams were removed a decade ago, the Chinook, Coho and other salmon varieties have made a recovery.

We were all assured over and over again that our cause was hopeless, that Public Lands Commissioner, Hilary Franz, head of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had already approved the sale to an Oregon-based logging outfit, Murphy Company, that canceling the sale would lay DNR open to a breach of contract lawsuit.

But yesterday, Franz announced that the timber sale has been canceled. It is part of a sweeping DNR proposal to protect 2,000 acres of timberland in river watersheds crucial to drinking water, salmon recovery, carbon sequestration, and recreation.

Must be approved

The plan must be approved by county commissioners in all the counties affected by the proposal although cancellation of the Power Plant timber sale is a done deal.

In hindsight, there is a reason that Elizabeth Dunne seemed unfazed by all the gloom and doom even as Earth Law Center and other environmental groups lost their court appeal that the sale be canceled. Dunne must have sensed that this timber sale was a case of timber corporate greed going one step too far.

We walked along that lovely trail, Elizabeth explaining to us the crucial importance of the mature fir, cedar, and spruce in storing tons of CO2, key to combating climate change. The Elwha river, she pointed out, provides all the drinking water for the City of Port Angeles. It is one of the loveliest rivers west of the Mississippi, that flows out of the Olympic Mountains, home to the Lower Elwha band of Skallams who depend on the salmon for their livelihood.

After that walk, several of us attended every meeting of the Clallam County Commissioners pleading that they join in the call for canceling the timber sale. Ellen Menshew, Brian Grad, Lisa Dekker and many other environmental activists spoke repeatedly, urging all three commissioners to join in the effort to save the Elwha watershed.

The Port Angeles City Council has appealed unanimously for cancellation of the timber sale to protect PA’s drinking water.

We had been recruited to this movement by Democratic Rep. Mike Chapman, now a candidate for the Washington State Senate, who pulled several of us aside at a fundraiser for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Chapman told us we must throw ourselves into this fight, that he plans to introduce legislation aimed at protecting the Elwha watershed and other streams crucial to restoring endangered species of fish, providing drinking water, and recreation for millions of visitors.

The Clallam County Democratic Party adopted unanimously a resolution calling for termination of the “Power Plant” logging sale.

Surely, Franz’s reversal was part of her election strategy. She had announced her candidacy for Washington governor, pitting herself against fellow Democrat Bob Ferguson. Then Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer announced he will not seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Franz then announced she is ending her bid for governor and will seek election to the House, replacing Kilmer. It remains to be seen whether the environmental movement will endorse Franz, who was badly exposed as the recipient of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from wealthy timber interests.

But, for now, we are celebrating a victory that everyone told us we would never win. It goes to prove: Keep your eyes on the prize! Put your faith in grassroots people! Mobilize them to win what is rightfully theirs—clean drinking water first of all.

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Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.