Washington, DC — New lands added by Congress last fall to the Petrified Forest National Park are now due for review for possible designation as wilderness, according to a letter sent today by three conservation groups to park officials. A wilderness designation keeps the newly added lands in a pristine state, permanently closed to motor traffic and development.
In one of the most significant additions to the national park system since 1994, Congress added 125,000 acres to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, effective December 3, 2004. The addition also imposes obligations upon the National Park Service, whose management policies require that –
“[A]ll lands administered by the National Park Service, including new units or additions to existing units since 1964 will be evaluated for their suitability for inclusion within the national wilderness preservation system…[T]he assessment must be completed within one year after…the acquisition of the new lands.”
Three conservation organizations (Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER), The Wilderness Society (TWS) and Wilderness Watch) are now prodding the Park Service to begin a review of the new lands to determine whether any roadless areas may be suitable for wilderness designation under the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Since 1964 Congress has designated more than 44 million acres of wilderness within 46 national parks, monuments, and other areas in 20 states from New York to Alaska — nearly half of the 105 million acres in the entire Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness is also nothing new to Petrified Forest National Park. On October 23, 1970 Congress designated wilderness in the park, becoming, along with Lava Beds National Monument, the first wilderness within the national park system.
A formal wilderness designation requires an act of Congress, which has yet to act upon 19 presidential recommendations totaling more than 5.5 million acres. Among those out in the cold are such popular parks as Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Big Bend. In addition, the Park Service has prepared wilderness studies and recommendations for more than 2.3 million acres of wilderness at eight other parks but these recommendations have never been submitted to either the Secretary, the President or transmitted to Congress. The eight parks include Bighorn Canyon, Grand Canyon (with more than 1.1 million acres), Lake Mead and Voyageurs.
“The road to final wilderness designation is long and rocky but it must begin now,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a former long-time Park Service manager. “The law requires that new park lands be assessed for wilderness suitability and we expect the park Service to diligently follow the law.”