112th Congress Took Backward Steps When It Came To Designating Wilderness In National Park System

Not only did the 112th Congress fail to pass any legislation creating additional wilderness in the National Park System, but it turns out the body actually cut some official wilderness out of the system.

How did it accomplish such a disappointing deed? It apparently all comes down to one individual, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on national parks and other public lands and who takes a dim view of federal land ownership.

There was an effort to increase the wilderness footprint in the park system by Rep. Sam Farr, the California Democrat who proposed the legislation to rename Pinnacles National Monument as Pinnacles National Park. That legislation is awaiting President Obama's signature, but it lacks a provision to increase the wilderness footprint in Pinnacles by nearly 3,000 acres.

Rep. Farr's original proposal not only called for redesignating the monument as a park, but also called for the expansion of the Pinnacles Wilderness by 2,905 acres. And he called for the name of the wilderness to be changed to the Hain Wilderness after Schuler Hain, an early 20th century proponent of Pinnacles National Monument.

Unfortunately, by the time Rep. Farr's legislation left the Congress for the White House, the section to expand the wilderness area by 2,905 acres had been cast adrift. Rep. Bishop sliced it away during committee work on the original measure.

"Bishop let Congressman Sam Farr know that his bill to rename Pinnacles as a national park would go nowhere if it contained any designation of additional park land as wilderness. Faced with that choice, Farr acceded," says Frank Buono, a former National Park Service manager who monitors congressional action on public lands matters. "Thus, the Pinnacles bill is essentially a 'nothing-burger' – a harmless name change with not a scintilla of protective significance."

As for the point that the 112th Congress actually decreased the amount of official wilderness in the park system, the first time Mr. Buono could ever find that happening, that stemmed from now-retired Rep. Norm Dicks' efforts to engineer a land swap at Olympic National Park to move some Quileute tribal lands out of a tsunami zone.

Most of the Quileute Reservation village of La Push "is located within the coastal flood plain, with the tribe’s administrative buildings, school, elder center, and housing all located in a tsunami zone," according to the former congressman.

Under the original legislation Mr. Dicks wrote with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, 785 acres of park land near La Push would be given to the tribe, while 15 acres of the Boulder Creek Trail and campground in Olympic National Park would be designated as wilderness, and about 4,100 acres north of Lake Crescent would also be designated as wilderness.

Now, 222 of the 785 acres that eventually was transferred to the Quileute Tribe had been official wilderness since 1998, but the legislation signed into law last February was devoid of any offset for that loss, and devoid of the wording that would have provided an additional 4,115 acres of wilderness courtesy of Rep. Bishop.

"Norm Dicks wanted to replace the park wilderness that would be lost in the land transfer to the Quileute. Bishop would not accede to the congressman who represented the district, and who, in his last term, was capping a decades-long career," said Mr. Buono. "Norm Dicks, a mild, thoughtful and moderate man, was put in the position of dropping the no-net-loss provision or seeing his bill to transfer land to the tribe die at Bishop’s hands."

The Traveler has reached out to Rep. Bishop's office for the reasoning behind his amendments against wilderness designation in each of these cases and will update this story if he responds.

The handling of the Olympic land transfer appeared particularly hypocritical to the Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee. The GOP majority often has said no wilderness should be designated without local input, and yet when that input is received and is positive, the majority ignores it, the Democrats said. Furthermore, they noted, the GOP went along with a "no-net-loss" of wilderness provision in legislation sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington state who chairs the full committee, in connection with a wilderness boundary change in North Cascades National Park, but removed a similar provision in Rep. Dicks' legislation.

As introduced, H.R. 1162 was the product of decades-long negotiations and represented a workable compromise between stakeholders. As part of that compromise, the legislation as introduced sought to balance the loss of park wilderness through the addition of new wilderness in another area. Through this compromise, the needs of the Tribe would have been well-served and the loss of wilderness and NPS land would have been mitigated.

Despite a hearing record free of any evidence of controversy regarding this legislation, the Majority felt compelled to adopt an amendment striking the new wilderness designation from the legislation. Further, the majority voted down an amendment offered by Subcommittee Ranking Member (Raul) Grijalva to at least protect Olympic from a net loss of wilderness. These votes are unjustified; they are based on narrow, ideological objections to wilderness, even within National Parks and even with strong, local support.

During the same business meeting, the Committee approved legislation sponsored by Chairman (Doc) Hastings (H.R. 2352) containing the ‘‘no-net-loss-of wilderness’’ protection for North Cascades National Park, also in Washington State, but apparently the Majority feels no need for consistency on this issue.


Republicans are no friends of public lands. To them it impinges upon possible oil and gas drilling.

If we'd get off the "playing to emotion" type of discourse we might actually solve some problems instead of empowering those that simply use it for their own political gain. An example: What was the "real" reason behind this decision. More sinister than just misguided, I believe.


As far as the tactics used by Rob Bishop? He could be just playing the game the way his opposition has in the past.

Trailadvocate, you've strayed quite far from the subject at hand. Perhaps you could rephrase your comment to somehow tie it into wilderness designation or lack thereof.

Rob Bishop is probably the worst enemy of our environment and national parks anywhere. He is well known for his temper, dishonesty, and political shenanigans. It's very possible that he might have been defeated in the last election by Donna McAleer had it not been for the outlandish gerrymandering that took place in Utah after the census. Ironically, gerrymandering that was intended to secure the positions of Bishop and Congressman Jason Chafetz may have been responsible for Democrat Jim Matheson's defeat of his Tea Party backed challenger.

Utah politics is, to say the least, very interesting.

Kurt, I don't think outrageous political statements concerning Wilderness Designation and on any number of other issues that are so shallow in substance do us much good when there are monumental challenges in the big picture. It's true I have strayed on this topic. Smokies comment,"Republicans are no friend for public lands," I found offensive, untrue and unproductive and akin to "Republicans want to take away your birth control." Strayed again, I suppose:). I'll try and do better.

And what of the tactics used by forces bent on eliminating such historic and culturally significant (many operating over 100 years) public supported operations such as the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and a littany of other past and ongoing efforts to satisfy a strident environmental purpose. I'd say Rob Bishop is the flip side to the same coin however that might offend some.

Gee Smokie - i didn't realize that someone wanted to drill for oil and gas in Pinnacles. Could you document that?

And for Kurt, since the land will now be inside a National Park and administered by the NPS, if appropriate, why can't the NPS administer it as Wilderness? I don't see any real "damage" here.

Trailadvocate, I see where you're trying to go, but I think it's a little like apples and oranges. In the case of the oyster company, the wheels were set in motion back in the 1970s when Congress agreed on the wilderness landscape at Point Reyes. The writing was on the wall for decades. And in that case, you'll no doubt recall, a prominent Democrat, Sen. Feinstein, fought for the oyster company.

In the case at hand, it seems one individual who opposes wilderness and has an inordinate amount of clout is playing kingmaker/gatekeeper when it comes to wilderness and other issues pertaining to public lands.

After all, he didn't stand in the way of Rep. Doc Hasting's "no net loss" provision for wilderness, but when a Democrat offered the same in a process that involved many stakeholders, well, you can see where the cards fell.

As to whether Republicans are friends of public lands, as with Dems on some issues there are friendly Republicans and unfriendly ones. A good GOP scorecard can be found at ConservAmerica, a group once known as Republicans for Environmental Protection.

ec, you can flip the coin: Since it's inside a national park, why not designate it as official wilderness and be done with it?

The difference, of course, is that once designated as official wilderness, it would be much, much, much more difficult to reverse that designation to allow any development, say a road for a lodge --indeed, once Pinnacles becomes a "national park," what pressures will arise to sprinkle visitor amenities in it??? -- whereas without that designation all it really would take is a study or two.

Wilderness is an 'outrageous' and 'shallow in substance' issue?

why not designate it as official wilderness and be done with it?

Because the Park Service may conclude it isn't appropriate or that some other uses are. And it would appear the 1990 EIS reached the same conclusion.


"Wilderness" is not outrageous or shallow. Some premises are, however.

That link seems to pertain to a BLM, not NPS, wilderness issue outside of the national monument.

Beyond that, however, are you saying that if the NPS is in favor of a wilderness designation, then Congress should go along with it?

I know just-retired Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright was in favor of seeing some wilderness designated in that park...yet Congress never saw a bill. The NPS also is in favor of the wilderness designation at Point Reyes....and I'm sure there are other examples.

Kurt - all I am saying is "Wilderness" in itself isn't "better". Sometimes Wilderness is appropriate, sometimes it isn't. Understanding that discinction doesn't make one evil. And, in the case you cited, it doesn't seem to make a real difference as the NPS can manage the space as they wish. So other than filling space for NPT it doesn't seem noteworthy.

Then I guess you missed the point.

Perhpas I did, Kurt. What was the point? The 112 congress is evil?

Less wilderness is always better in my book. The Wilderness purists always the chicken little either we get wilderness or the land will bulldozed card. Those parks are in no danger of being defaced. The wilderness designation would not change this and would only make things worse.

Zeb, here in Utah the state is deadset to claim R.S. 2247 rights to many "roads" that crisscross national parks and wilderness areas. Some of those "roads" are nothing more than long-faded cattle trails and even streambeds. If the state somehow managed to convince the courts that those were valid rights, wilderness and even lands managed as de facto wilderness in national parks would be "defaced," to use your wording.


To borrow from another report on another issue, how do you think Yellowstone planners would have reacted in the 1960s, when only about 200 snowmobiles entered the park throughout the winter, if they were told that one day there would be more than 20,000 snowmobiles entering the park each winter?

I think the perspective on the issue of wilderness can't be short-term, but has to stretch over the generations.

Exactly right Kurt. We Americans have a long and dismal history of short sightedness. What we lose now will forever be lost for the future. Far better to err on the side of caution.

No Lee - far better to make a rational decision and not err at all. And Zeb I find your absolutist position against Wilderness as distasteful as the Lee's, Kurt' et al, absolutist position for Wilderness.

100 million acres of wilderness ought to do it.

Like everything, overreach is always a temptation, even for the most virtuous looking projects. Erring on the side of caution can be and has been an excuse for eliminating or sentencing living cultural history to museum pieces when their existence is healthy to the public and in harmony except for the strictest tenents of the strident. "What we lose now will forever be lost for the future," is perhaps the one truth running through the arguments, I believe.

Zeb - its not a question of what "ought to do" but rather what "ought to be". If the land deserves Wilderness designation without undue negative consequences then it should be designated so no matter what lands may have been designated prior. In contrast, if it doesn't warrant designation than it shouldn't regardless of how "little" land may have already been designated. Obvious the definition of "deserve" and "undue harm" are up for debate but taking abolute positions is not appropriate.

Absolutist? Hmmmmm. I guess we must defer to an expert on the subject.

Trolling again Lee?

That's something other readers can decide.

The 112 congress is evil?

To describe a criticism of Congress as an accusation of "evil" is to reframe the discussion in absolutist terms of good vs. evil. (Noone in this thread has called Congress evil.)

I don't see what Zebulon wrote as absolutist. (Also, what does calling his viewpoint "not appropriate" mean? "Appropriate" and "inappropriate" are the world's most nebulous adjectives.)

I think he's saying that since many levels of land protection exist, and more could be created by statute, trying to tie more acreage onto the procrustean bed of Wilderness designation is a dubious enterprise.

If that were an absolutist position, it would be because the Wilderness Act, as severely interpreted by the agencies, is itself absolutist and there is a crying need to amend it. The Act is also rife with contradictions, both in the Act itself (grazing OK, roads to inholdings OK, luxury packfitter operations OK) and the way it's implemented (footbridges allowed here but not there; historical cabins and similar structures deliberately left to rot here but not there; no bicycles, no baby strollers, but semipermanent campsites for the aforementioned tenderfoot pack operations fine).

Moreover, the proof is in the pudding. Obviously there's considerable sentiment both in Congress and among the American public that more Wilderness designation is, to avoid the meaningless adjective of inappropriate and say what I mean, an ill-advised and unworkable public policy whose costs outweigh its benefits and which invites inconsistent application. It's hard to argue with Zebulon that that's the current political situation and the operational practical reality.

Conservationists would be wise to work for a new statute, since amending the Wilderness Act seems politically impossible, that would provide a high level of land protection (no roads, and frankly no grazing or massive trail- and meadow-destroying commercial pack trains either, which would be more protective than the Wilderness Act is) but get rid of the silliness and allow hitching posts, footbridges, historical oyster farms and similar historical cottage industries, and human-powered travel. But no, the Wilderness crusade trumps all in the more dogged quarters of the conservation community. That's where the absolutism lies.

To describe a criticism of Congress as an accusation of "evil" is to reframe the discussion in absolutist terms

And who described it as such. I asked the question - to which there never was a response.

And for imtnbike - to see there is enough ("ought to do it") sounds pretty absolutists. As I said before, my point is that each property should be based on its merits not some absolute view of Wilderness is good or wilderness is bad. How would you feel if someone decided the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of miles of biking trails we have "ought to do it"?

Can I start a commercial oyster farm in Lake Yellowstone????? Going from a "hitching post" to a commercial oyster farm on public property seems a bit of a stretch?

Fair enough. I'll let Zebulon defend himself! :-)

As for the commercial oyster farm, if one had been at Yellowstone for decades and worked in harmony with the natural surroundings, I would vote to let it stay. That seems to have been the situation at Pt. Reyes Nat'l Seashore, but alas, a strict (but legitimate) reading of the Wilderness Act is forcing it out of business. There are a zillion other threads on that topic and I lack the expertise to contribute meaningfully to that discussion, so I'll say no more on it here.

In fact, all one has to do to generate a heated discussion on any NPT thread is type these words!

oyster farm

bear spray guns

second amendment

mountain biking

Well, shucks, imtnbke, once upon a time there actually was a "zoo" of sorts on Dot Island out in Yellowstone Lake. Ran for 11 years. Perhaps you'd like to return it?;-)

As for your use of the word "strict" in interpreting the Wilderness Act in terms of the oyster farm, what do you mean by that? A non-conforming use is a non-conforming use. It's not like someone is twisting words or creating new meanings.

Now, applying "strict" interpretation when discussing mountain bikes in wilderness areas, I could almost see that....;-)

You're right Kurt, it wasn't a strict interpretation of the Wilderness Act because the Wilderness act didn't apply until the Oyster Farm was removed.

Hi, Kurt,

The answer lies in 16 USC § 1133(d)(6), one of the provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964:

"Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this Act to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas."

This is what allows for the (in my opinion harmful) commercial packtrain operations in Wilderness. In the same vein, I think Secretary Salazar could have said the oyster farm is necessary for realizing the purpose of Pt. Reyes, especially if it's true (as argued elsewhere on your site, and if I recall the argument correctly) that the oyster beds filter the noxious byproducts of cattle defecation elsewhere at Pt. Reyes. However, it seems that Secretary Salazar would have discretion to say that the farm isn't necessary for "realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the area[]," and that's why I say his decision was legitimate.

I knew that any typing of the words "oyster farm" would trigger further debate!

By the way, I think I read elsewhere, maybe in the San Francisco Chronicle, an assertion that restaurant oyster prices may rise 30% in California as a result of the decision.

ec, not sure you're right on when the Wilderness Act kicked in in connection with the oyster farm, as the Act clearly states that the president can recommend to Congress areas that qualify for official wilderness designation, and because Congress in passing legislation to create wilderness at Point Reyes specifically mentioned this area. But it can be debated, I suppose.

imtnbke, few if any will point to this case as a model of how to handle wilderness designations. Borders could have been drawn around the oyster operation, an exemption could have been made, and why extend the ranching leases for 20 years? Re oyster prices, how much are they now? Here in land-locked Utah oysters go for under a buck a piece.

because Congress in passing legislation to create wilderness at Point Reyes specifically mentioned this area.

Mentioned this area as "potential Wilderness". It wasn't Wilderness until the farm was removed. And as your response to imtnbke indicates, there were ways this could have moved forward without tossing the farm. In this case, it appears the absolutist won with signifcant detrimental effects and little if any real gain.

My point was that the Wilderness Act specifically addresses the mechanism for creating official wilderness, and so the Act was in play to a certain extent here.

And who described it as such. I asked the question - to which there never was a response.

To review basic grammar: whether it's in interrogative or declarative form, it's still a description of Kurt's point--and one that is strangely absolutist. (Who could read Kurt's text and reasonably wonder if his point is that Congress is evil?)

Imtnbke-- you forgot to include: plastic water bottle,snowmobile,bison and "live bait". LOL

Kurt, mountain oysters are a lot less expensive. You can get 'em for free if you're willing to spend a little time docking lambs or branding calves.

But I can't understand why anyone would want to eat either of them.

Feel the same way about Quiche or Humus, Lee! Oysters cooked on the branding pot or in the shell are my favorites. Get my own where available:)!

trail, you can have my share. Where shall I send them?

My point is that we have already plenty of wildnerness (as it's currently applied). And in its current form, we should not have more. The designation protects the land, but at a cost that's completely out of whack with the benefits it confers. Land managers remove sign posts because they're not wild enough. Trails become abandoned because chainsaws cannot be used to clear them and trail workers cannot be trucked to backcountry trails. Wilderness has become this mental construct in which we try to recreate a place that probably never existed in the first place.

So, unless the Wilderness Act gets amended to something more rational (which will never happen as it has now reached the worship status by "conservationists"), I would rather see a new form of protection that allows for a more rational management of our wild places and protects them from development, mining, etc. Right now, we're just creating empty cathedrals for the wildernuts. I doubt that this is in line with what the 1964 Congress had in mind.

Congress' petty political games and drunken-sailor spending are truly tiresome, but how important is this small loss of Wilderness acreage, really? It seems to me much more serious for the future of the National Parks when these committee bullys can micromanage unit designations, names and budget priorities. And it does work both ways. The retiring Norm Dicks (D-WA) was repeatedly dogged most of his very long career with allegations of cronyism in the awarding of government contracts, many of them for the National Pork Service.

For giving up a few hundred acres, a boundary dispute was resolved at Rialto Beach, ensuring public access, and the Quileute Tribe gained a refuge from the threat of tsunamis destroying their tiny reservation. The blocked 'replacement' parcel would have been wilderness in name only, bounded by miles of clearcuts and separated from the core of the park by the US 101 corridor.

Also, notice the NPS itelf seems not exactly passionate about adding Wilderness, being primarily in the development business:

"This confusing duplicity is nothing new. The National Park Service (NPS) did not support the inclusion of national parks in the Wilderness System when the Act was signed in 1964 and the agency has never demonstrated a commitment to the Act. NPS Historian Richard Sellers has written: 'Although many of the National Park Service’s rank and file enthusiastically supported the wilderness bill, the bureau’s leadership seems to have drifted from outright opposition to reluctant neutrality.' The NPS has made this shift by conveniently writing inordinate flexibility into its management standards."


Is this a trick? Not sure if you aren't working with Homeland Security, Lee:). If you pass the test (or not), I'll cook 'em up and tell you they're dumplin's and, well ...dumplin's and ....:). Gathering on Hoods Canal the Native Americans would have a fire burning on the shore cooking fresh ones while they cover the market in Seattle's finest restaurants. No one's to old for a breakthrough:).

I'm too old for that kind of breakthrough. Oysters set off my gag reflex. Ugly results follow.

This has been going on for two solid days: has anything here not been said before? Anything new? Anything interesting?

The way I see it, the National Park Service was created to take care of our country's sacred treasures. The problems started when they began to allow every tom dick and harry along with every foundation in the world, tell them what to do. Do you see people and groups and foundations telling the US Treasury how to run their Department? How about the military divisions? Or, hey, you see anybody telling the Supreme Court how to do THEIR job? If everyone would just shut the [url=mailto:#$@%]#$@%[/url] up and let NPS do what NPS is supposed to do, maybe, just maybe there would be some harmony in this country instead of everyone thinking it has to be THEIR way. Its OUR parks. Get over it.

Do you see people and groups and foundations telling the US Treasury how to run their Department? How about the military divisions? Or, hey, you see anybody telling the Supreme Court how to do THEIR job?

Yup. It's pretty much how D.C. operates every single day. But your point is well-taken. One would hope the NPS could follow its mandate without interference.

de, the answer to all your questions special interests and Congress telling other agencies how to do their jobs is YES.