HOW THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE FROM AMERICA SHOULD STEP-UP ITS WILDERNESS MANAGEMENT PUBLISHEDGretel Enck
Renowned historian and western writer Wallace Stegner calls the National Parks the best idea America ever had. He makes his case on the observation that voters make “almost criminally irresponsible choices” and elected representatives push bills that “sadly confuse private (read ‘corporate’) interests with the public interest” (1998, 135). But the National Parks “reflect us at our best rather than our worst,” and are, with a wink to his previous statement, “a cure for cynicism” (Stegner, 135). The Wilderness Act of 1964 created a legal designation to protect some of America’s most pristine lands. The Wilderness Act eloquently defined wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (Frome 1997, 214). Congress did not create an agency to manage wilderness, however, but engaged existing land management agencies—including the NPS—to incorporate wilderness into their holdings. The National Park Service NPS now manages 84 % of its land as wilderness (combining designated, proposed and recommended wilderness areas) and manages more wilderness than any other federal land agency (Smith 2006). That battle is the creation and execution of wilderness management plans. NPS 2001 Management Policies show that the agency directorate sets a high priority for managing wilderness within the NPS (NPS 2000b). The NPS website proclaims,“Wilderness management is the highest form of stewardship we can offer” (NPS 2007b). Despite the admirable talk, however, wilderness management in the parks is not living up to the rhetoric. Seventy-seven National Park sites have designated wilderness areas. Only about 15, though, have official wilderness management plans (Smith). These plans are created following federal guidelines and involving input of the public and other stakeholders. The process can be contentious, as stakeholders often disagree on many facets of the plan. The end result, though, allows parks to better understand their resources and how best to protect them, as well as offering a detailed road map for managing the resources. The enabling legislation of the National Park Service (NPS) created the mandate to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (NPS 2004). This mandate is a source of pride and frequent reference for NPS managers and staff who are charged with preserving America’s treasures. (Haines, 1974). The Wilderness Act established one National Wilderness Preservation System made up of the wilderness areas managed by four federal land management systems, the NPS, BLM, FWS, and the Forest Service. This requires ever increasing coordination and cooperation among the four agencies (NPS 2001a). The conclusion of a 2001 report by the Pinchot Institute says, “There is a need to forge an integrated and collaborative system across the four wilderness management agencies” (NPS 2001a), also pointing out that, “Local day-to-day management actions may set precedents that could affect wilderness stewardship across all agencies” (NPS 2001a). To say the word wilderness is to conjure an image of pristine, natural landscape— “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (Frome, 214). Not only is wilderness an official legal designation, but it is also a philosophical and spiritual description of the last, best natural area in America. Wallace Stegner writes, “If the national park idea is…the best idea America ever had, wilderness preservation is the highest refinement of that idea” (131).
wilderness, strategyes; management; legislation; policyes