Tacoma, WA – Olympic National Park's decision to airlift pre-fabricated buildings into designated wilderness is a violation of the Wilderness Act, according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma by Olympic Park Associates, Wilderness Watch and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
This past September, the National Park Service announced plans to transport two trail shelters by helicopter into the park's remote backcountry. The new pre-fabricated buildings would replace old forest shelters that collapsed several years ago under heavy snows.
Park officials contend that the pre-fabs are actually historic resources that will enhance wilderness character and are necessary for visitor safety. The conservation groups dispute both claims. Today they served notice to park service officials of their suit filed in federal district court to stop the operation.
"Flying new buildings with heavy-lift helicopters is a misguided means of managing one of the world's premier wilderness parks," said Donna Osseward, president of Olympic Park Associates, a group that focuses on the park. "The Wilderness Act is clear on this; new structures simply aren't allowed in wilderness."
Olympic National Park, widely considered one of the wilderness jewels of the national park system, was created in 1938 to preserve the area's matchless rain forests and spectacular ice-capped peaks, populated with elk and other native wildlife. Congress designated some 95 percent of the park as wilderness in 1988
"We've been waiting for a wilderness plan for Olympic since wilderness was designated by Congress sixteen years ago," said George Nickas, director of Missoula-based Wilderness Watch, noting that the suit also charges that the shelter replacement is proceeding without a required wilderness management plan in place. "Olympic's current leaders seem more interested in erecting edifices than in managing the park's wilderness responsibly."
The Wilderness Act provides that "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is . . . an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man."
"The park service is rushing ahead with this ill-conceived action without having completed either a wilderness plan or a general management plan," said Lea Mitchell of PEER. "The agency needs to slow down and reassess its priorities. These projects are costly, unnecessary and illegal. And they degrade the character of a world-class wilderness."