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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.


I think you're right, Zeb. (We probably hold starkly opposite views of wilderness, but maybe that's not so much a problem in a democracy.)

The only problem is that we don't even agree on what the NPS job should be in the first place.

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.

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:).

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

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 #$@% 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.

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

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."

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