Orphaned Park Wilderness

The Unfinished Wilderness Agenda of the National Park System

Wilderness PhotoNational park wilderness contains some of the most magnificent wild land in our nation or, for that matter, the world. The 44 million acres of designated park wilderness comprise more than half of all the lands within our park system and more than 40% of all federal lands within the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Despite this superlative profile, the National Park Service (NPS) has turned its back on its wilderness. The agency has failed to forward wilderness recommendations to the President, conduct legally-mandated wilderness assessments, prepare wilderness management plans, or take a myriad of other steps necessary to protect wilderness resources.

In an effort to return NPS wilderness to the gold standard for wilderness in America, PEER is pursuing a three-pronged effort to:

Resuscitate Abandoned Wilderness Designations

The process of securing statutory protection for an enduring resource of park wilderness has stopped dead in its tracks. All told, long-pending or stalled wilderness proposals would increase park wilderness land by more than half, putting at least an additional 26 million acres under wilderness protection.

Absent wilderness designation, park backcountry is protected only be agencies policies which may be waived. Thus, fulfilling the NPS wilderness mandate will yield several important benefits, such as –

    • Precluding commercial intrusion into park wild lands by outlawing more transmission towers, pipelines, cell phone towers, and other structures from park wild-lands;
    • Strengthening park air quality protections by extending the scope of anti-degradation guarantees; and
    • Preventing mechanized recreation from penetrating park backcountry.

Look at the eleven Steps for Rescuing Orphaned Park Wilderness for the specific actions required to reverse all these abdications of wilderness stewardship.

See the wilderness status of 100 national parks with wilderness capacity with recommended next steps for NPS and Secretary of Interior. 

Protect Existing Wilderness

Guided by employees on the scene, PEER is stepping up its interventions to halt wilderness violations committed or condoned by NPS managers. Explore this site to see examples of that work across the park system.

Address the Big Picture

At present NPS devotes less staff time to managing the national wilderness program than any other federal land management agency, even though NPS administers more wilderness acres than any other agency. In the 1970s, NPS had an entire office devoted to wilderness. 

The Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964. After more than a half-century, the wilderness structure of the national park system remains significantly incomplete. The leadership at both NPS and its parent agency, the Interior Department, are sworn to faithfully execute the law but have breached this oath when it comes to the Wilderness Act. PEER will continue to work to implement the unfinished wilderness mandate in our national park system.


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