Washington, DC — Plans by Olympic National Park to set fires in designated wilderness to recreate “cultural landscapes” is both illegal and imprudent, according to a joint letter released today by Olympic Park Associates, Wilderness Watch and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The groups contend the park is again violating the Wilderness Act, destroying wildlife habitat and conducting “experimental’ techniques which may get out of hand.
The Olympic National Park is preparing to conduct controlled burns across 17 acres this month in designated wilderness in order to restores the “historic landscapes” on two old abandoned homesteaders’ sites, at Ahlstrom’s and Roose’s Prairies. The park wants to destroy small trees and other vegetation that have grown up over the past two centuries.
The use of helicopters, chainsaws and other mechanization in wilderness, as entailed in the park’s fire plan for these sites, is generally prohibited by federal law. Last year, in a suit the same three groups filed, a federal court ruled that a plan by the park to airlift shelters into the backcountry violated the Wilderness Act. The groups charge that the Olympic park leadership is making precisely the same mistake again.
“The Wilderness Act does not permit mechanical intervention or habitat alteration for the purpose of perpetuating manmade landscapes,” said George Nickas, executive director of Missoula-based Wilderness Watch. “The intent of this project is antithetical to wilderness.”
The vast majority (95%) of the Olympic National Park land area is designated wilderness. Last month, the groups formally critiqued new draft management plans proposed to govern park operations for the next 20 years for shortchanging wilderness values. The groups have also protested the absence of a wilderness management plan for the park.
“This is just another attempt to promote the re-creation of historical landscapes at the park; only this time it is under the guise of a fire management plan.” added Sue Gunn, Director of the Washington chapter of PEER, who had previously called for formal discipline of Olympic superintendent William Laitner for wilderness violations confirmed in a recent federal court decision. “We are taken aback that this park management apparently still fails to understand that preservation of ‘cultural settings’ does not trump the Wilderness Act.”
“Olympic National Park was created to protect the natural landscape and wildlife habitat of the Olympic peninsula. It was never intended to be like Gettysburg or other historical parks,” stated Donna Osseward, President of Olympic Park Associates, a group formed in 1947 to provide citizen oversight of park management. “Homesteads and Forest Service three-sided shelters can be better preserved and appreciated elsewhere.”