Document 31: The Wilderness Society Advocates Creating a Large Olympic National Park, 1936

Statement of Robert Marshall in Mount Olympus National Park: Hearings before the Committee on the Public Lands,
House of Representatives, Seventy-Fourth Congress, Second Session, on H. R. 7086, A Bill to Establish the Mount Olympus
National Park in the State of Washington
(1936), p. 274-76.

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The Wilderness Society is a national organization which stands for the preservation of those few large roadless tracts which yet remain in the United States, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that some other use is of compelling interest, and [the Wilderness Society believes in the preservation of] as many representative examples of virgin [old-growth] forests in the different timber types of the country as is feasible. . . .

The Wilderness Society has no general preference between the Forest Service and the Park Service. It admires many things done by each organization, and it also finds occasion to criticize activities of each organization. In the present case the Society had no viewpoints as to whether this area should be a [national] park or a [national] forest. However, the secretary of the Society, Mr. Robert Sterling Yard, wrote to both Services on December 30, 1935, requesting their plans for the treatment of this area.

On the basis of these replies, the Park Service plans appear more satisfactory from both angles in which the Wilderness Society is interested. The Park Service proposes to develop only the outlying areas of the park by roads, leaving the central core a true wilderness. The Forest Service proposes a road almost through the heart of the area, up the Dosewallips River and down the Quinault River. It is the feeling of the Wilderness Society that this particular road will add little to the automobile visitors to the Olympics in comparison to the wilderness values which it destroys for the hiker. . . .

The most important reason why the Wilderness Society feels this area should be made into a park is that the Forest Service is only willing to set aside a relatively small tract of big timber, while the Park Service proposes to set aside a truly magnificent tract. The forests of the Olympics constitute the last opportunity in this country and almost in the world of setting aside a really large expanse of big timber. By big timber I mean not trees 2 and 3 and 4 feet through, but the stupendous stands which are found only along the west coast of North America, which contain many specimens which are 8 and 10 and 12 feet in diameter, with a few trees even larger than that. While there are tracts of a few thousand acres set aside by the Save-the-Redwoods-League in California, and very fine groves of big trees which are definitely safeguarded in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, all of these stands of giant trees can be walked across in at most a few hours. It is only here in the Olympics where it is yet feasible to set aside a stand of big timber where one can escape completely from mechanized civilization and bury oneself for days in the glory of the most magnificent forests ever created.

The Forest Service plan does not make adequate provision for saving such a stand. It proposes to set aside somewhat less than 6 billion feet of timber, mostly in the higher mountain sections, very little of which is representative of the spruce, cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir forests of the Northwest at their best. Furthermore, what big timber is set aside does not occupy large contiguous areas, but occurs instead in scattered pockets. . . .

I am not unmindful of the so-called practical objections to a national park which have been raised locally. It is contended that if 17 billion feet of timber are locked up in a national park it will wreck the economic life of the Olympics. Similar arguments have generally been raised locally against the establishment of other national parks, regardless of whether the resource to be locked up was timber, or forage [grasses and shrubs eaten by livestock], or minerals. The wilderness Forest Preserve of northern New York [now called Adirondack State Park], which now constitutes one of the greatest prides of the entire Empire State, was only set aside over the bitter opposition of the representatives of the counties in which the Forest Preserve lies, through the insistence of those who lived in more distant parts of the State. The real issue seems to be whether the local objection to locking up commercial values outweighs the national gain of preserving this magnificent forest purely for its beauty.

The difference between the Forest Service's plan and the Park Service's plan is that the former contemplates throwing open for logging activities 73 billion feet out of 79 billion feet [of timber] on the peninsula, while the latter contemplates developing 62 feet billion feet out of 79 billion feet. The question boils down to whether reducing the commercial development of Olympic timber from 93 percent of its total volume to 78 percent of its total volume . . . will seriously damage the economic life of the Olympic peninsula.

. . . [It] is true that the number of people that can be employed locally on a sustained yield cut of 62 billion feet will be less than a sustained yield cut of 73 billion feet. The Forest Services estimates that the number of workers . . . who could get a permanent income out of the Forest Service plan and could not out of the Park Service plan, is about . . . 5,000.

The misery of unemployment is such that no one can be unmindful of the desirability of providing work. Nevertheless, considering the fact that there are approximately 12,000,000 people unemployed in the United States today, it does not seem as if the matter of 5,000 people one way or the other could be considered of dominant importance. It only represents . . . [a tiny fraction] of the total unemployment problem. It would seem as if the importance of . . . [a tiny fraction] of the total American unemployment problem is a great deal less great than the importance of preserving the last large feasible example of the most magnificent forests the world has ever known.

However, there are some additional considerations which make the importance of this hypothetical unemployment of 5,000 people an even less [important] consideration than I have mentioned. . . . First, the decreased volume of lumber which the Olympic area will throw upon the market will be produced instead by some other region which will thus gain commensurately in employment. . . .

Second, it is highly probably that a considerable part of the unemployment and the income and the taxes that will be lost to the Olympics . . . will be made up by the additional tourist trade which an Olympic National Park should bring to the region. As an example, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has probably brought far more money into that region than the operations of the lumber and fiber companies whose land was bought.

Third, the whole basis of the argument for logging this area desired for a park is that it will be logged on a sustained yield basis. Actually, it has not yet been demonstrated that sustained yield forestry can be practiced in this huge timber. Size and abnormal danger from windfall may be too great an obstacle in the way of Olympic Peninsula forestry practices. In any event, no organization administering the timber in that area . . . has yet consistently practiced sustained yield forestry on its cuttings. It would seem desirable first to demonstrate that sustained yield forestry can be practiced on the 62 billion feet which is not proposed for park purposes before sacrificing the most gorgeous forest in the whole country to what is as yet merely an unproven hope.

It should be constantly remembered, however, that even if the sustained yield forestry ideal is realized, the 50- or 100- year-old stands which will be grown under this technique will be as remote in beauty from the centuries old virgin forests as some hundred-foot foot cliff is remote from the beauty of El Capitan in Yosemite. [El Capitan is a 1,500-foot cliff.]

The argument against a park boils down to the fact that at best 5,000 out of the 12,000,000 million people now unemployed in this country might be absorbed in permanent work if the area were opened to logging. However, this is only theoretical, and it must be offset by the facts that the Olympics' loss in employment would be at least partially compensated by some other section's gain; that the increased employment due to recreational development would considerably offset the above-mentioned loss; and that it has not yet been demonstrated that sustained yield forestry can be practiced in this big timber. On the other hand, the cutting of this area will ruin forever the superlative beauty of last extensive stand of the most magnificent timber the world will ever see.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest