WASHINGTON - February 8 - The National Park Service has turned its back on its wilderness legacy, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). All told, long-pending or stalled wilderness proposals would increase park wilderness land by more than half, putting at least an additional 26 million acres – an area the size of Tennessee – under wilderness protection.
The National Park Service (NPS) administers more wilderness than any other federal agency. Despite this sizeable profile, in recent years, NPS has failed to forward wilderness recommendations to the President, conduct legally-mandated assessments, prepare wilderness management plans, revise legally-insufficient wilderness assessments or take a myriad of other steps necessary to protection wilderness resources.
“The National Park Service has a love-hate relationship with wilderness,” said Washington PEER Director Sue Gunn, who is heading the organization’s campaign. “As a consequence, some of the most magnificent wild lands in our nation or, for that matter, the world, remain at risk of tacky development and the ruts of mass-motorized recreation.”
PEER is asking the National Park Service and its parent agency, the Interior Department, to –
- Rescue “Orphaned” Park Wilderness. The process of securing statutory protection for an enduring resource of park wilderness has stopped dead in its tracks. PEER is seeking to reverse an array of past abdications of wilderness stewardship by urging the new Congress to enact the outstanding wilderness recommendations for lands in 18 parks made by several administrations and asking NPS to transmit its withheld internal recommendations to the Secretary and to Congress for another 21.3 million acres;
- Protect Existing Backcountry. Even where wilderness designations have occurred, national park managers often violate the wild character of what is in their custody. PEER is pressing to increase NPS compliance with the Wilderness Act and for a disciplinary policy for those staff who commit wilderness violations; and
- Engage in Real Wilderness Planning. At present NPS devotes only two people full time to managing the national wilderness program, even though NPS administers more wilderness acres than any other agency. In the 1970’s, NPS had an entire office devoted to wilderness.
“The current Park Service wilderness posture is largely characterized by inertia and internal obstruction,” Gunn added. “We hope to induce the new leadership in Congress as well as Interior Department to go beyond the bare legal necessities – beyond what must be done to what should be done.”
A new center on the PEER website displays detailed information about the location and status of each stalled wilderness recommendation and assessment, as well as a catalog of wilderness program improvements the organization is urging.