Washington, DC -- Today four conservation groups cited the National Park Service (NPS) for authorizing wholesale Wilderness Act violations by its own staff at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon contains more than 700,000 acres of congressionally designated wilderness in some of the wildest country in California. The Wilderness Act prohibits such things as motor vehicles and aircraft landing in wilderness. The prohibitions apply not only to the public who visit wilderness but also the federal agencies that administer it. The Act allows federal agencies some latitude to engage in practices prohibited by the Wilderness Act but only when the practices are absolutely needed for administering the wilderness.
This summer the Park Service adopted an internal procedure for Sequoia and Kings Canyon that in effect voids the restrictions on motor vehicles and equipment found in the Wilderness Act for the Park Service's own activities. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon procedures, described as "blanket approvals," allow the park to use motor vehicles, helicopter landings, motorized equipment without limit so long as these practices are in connection with an NPS administrative activity, regardless of necessity. This "blanket approval" procedure, signed by park superintendent Richard Martin, is the first time such a broad claim of exemption has been employed by any national park with wilderness.
The four groups (the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), The Wilderness Society and Wilderness Watch) are asking NPS Regional Director Jon Jarvis to rescind any blanket approval procedure and to manage wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon according to the law. If the blanket approval practices in Sequoia and Kings Canyon remain in place, similar "blanket approval" procedures may be applied to other national parks containing designated wilderness.
"The National Park Service should live by the same rules it imposes on others," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Rather than living with the intent of the law like everyone else, the Superintendent at Sequoia and Kings Canyon wants to adopt an exception so broad that it swallows the rule," said TinaMarie Ekker of Missoula, Montana-based Wilderness Watch.
Kim Crumbo of Arizona Wilderness Coalition explained that he is concerned that the blanket approval procedures at Sequoia and Kings Canyon could spread through the 44 million wilderness acres of the national park system. "Although my group is based in Arizona, we recognize the harm that could result from the Sequoia-Kings Canyon approach," stated Crumbo. "We will not let the NPS use a clever slight-of-hand to evade the restrictions of the Wilderness Act." The approach is believed to threaten Arizona's Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Saguaro National Park, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The groups hope that the NPS regional director will reconsider the blanket approvals and instruct the park officials to give specific review to every proposal to use otherwise prohibited activities in wilderness. By doing so the NPS will truly weigh whether each such use is the minimum requirement necessary for administering wilderness. And, we hope the NPS will involve the public in the review process. The conservation groups intend to monitor wilderness management at the two national parks to determine if the NPS persists in blanket approval for its use of prohibited activities in wilderness. Such a pattern would constitute a violation of the Wilderness Act and NPS Management Policies.
Read a copy of the four groups' letter.