It will take just a bit longer for nearly 12,000 acres of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to gain official wilderness designation. The kiss of death for the legislation intended to accomplish the deed was its attachment to the massive Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008.
Still, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin is expected to resume the push in the next Congress, and Pictured Rocks Superintendent Jim Northup is optimistic the measure, which would designate 11,740 acres in the lakeshore's Beaver Basin as wilderness, will eventually be passed.
“We had been hearing, and we were very hopeful that the Congress would take it up during the lame-duck session. But it just got derailed by greater needs,” Superintendent Northup said Friday, referring to the economic crisis that has consumed the Congress.
But the measure also was opposed by motorized recreation groups, private property rights proponents, and Western interests that saw it as a vehicle to place 3 million acres out-of-bounds for energy exploration, logging, and "major recreation."
With such opposition, and the fact that the omnibus bill contained about 150 separate pieces of legislation, the lakeshore's measure was doomed.
The Pictured Rocks' proposal arose from the lakeshore's General Management Plan, which was adopted in 2004. In preparing that planning document, which was five years in the making, the lakeshore conducted a wilderness study that identified more than 18,000 acres that had wilderness potential. However, public comment indicated that was too much of the lakeshore's landscape, and so a compromise was reached to push for designation of 11,740 acres -- or roughly 16 percent of the lakeshore.
"What it will do for that portion of the park, which is really the central core of the park, is provide permanent legal protections there. It will not do anything to deny public access,” Superintendent Northup said. “It really won’t change anything about the way that portion of the park is managed.”
Indeed, hunting long has been allowed on the national lakeshore, and that wouldn't change if the wilderness designation ever arrives, he said. Nor would it outlaw use on Little Beaver or Beaver lakes of electric boat motors, which the original Wilderness Act made an exception for if long-standing use of motorboats on the lakes in question could be demonstrated, said the superintendent.
Lakeshore officials even went to lengths to ensure that Lake Superior boaters could pull their boats up onto portions of beach that would fall within the proposed wilderness boundaries. While there had been consideration of extending the boundaries one-quarter-mile out into Lake Michigan to match the lakeshore's boundary, many boaters like to land their craft so they can have a picnic or take a hike, said Superintendent Northup.
To meet those desires, the proposed legislation called for a "line of demarcation" by which the wilderness boundary would end where the waters of Lake Michigan meet the land. Under that approach, the nose of a boat could be beached within the proposed wilderness while its motor would remain in the water outside the wilderness, he explained.
Now, with the death of the omnibus lands bill, Pictured Rocks will have to wait at least until next year to see this legislation passed.