Protecting the Backcountry

Even where wilderness designations have occurred, national park managers often turn their backs on safeguarding the wild character of what is in their custody.

Defending the Crown Jewels: Olympic National Park is a prime example of designated wilderness being put at unnecessary risk. Olympic NP contains the largest expanse of wilderness of any park in America outside of Alaska, featuring the most magnificent temperate rainforest in the world, glacier-capped mountains and wild, undeveloped beaches. Currently, 95% of the park is designated wilderness making it the largest wilderness park, but its managers neglect and abuse this wilderness crown jewel –

  • No Wilderness Management Plan: Nearly twenty years after the designation of wilderness, NPS has not completed a wilderness management plan for the park yet they are currently moving forward with many proposals that have the potential to negatively impact wilderness.
  • Illegal Structures in Wilderness: PEER had to sue to stop the park superintendent from airlifting prefabricated buildings into wilderness in clear violation of the Wilderness Act prohibition on use of mechanized equipment and construction. Despite losing in court, t he park is hatching new plans for development.
  • “Cultural” Burning in Wilderness: Olympic is now is moving forward with other anti-wilderness plans, such as “cultural” burning within designated wilderness for the purpose of maintaining cultural scenes and practices at specific sites within the park.

NPS Wilderness Management Breakdown: In 2004 in a stinging letter of condemnation of the NPS’ management of wilderness, a 37-year employee retired as Wilderness Program Coordinator for the eight-state Intermountain Region. In his letter, he pointed out that “(1) the agency has failed to properly identify and protect its wilderness resources, (2) senior level managers continue to demonstrate either a lack of concern and/or an open hostility to the Service’s wilderness responsibilities, and (3) park managers continuously attempt to ignore or circumvent the instructions of the Wilderness Act and NPS wilderness policies in carrying out their other duties.”

National Wilderness Commission Report: Over the years there have been several task forces and committees convened to evaluate the shortcomings of wilderness management. The most recent of these was the 2002 Brown Commission Report. Despite these efforts, wilderness management within our national parks still flounders.