Orphaned Park Wilderness

The Unfinished Wilderness Agenda of the National Park System


National park wilderness contains some of the most magnificent wild land in our nation or, for that matter, the world. NPS administers more wilderness than any other federal land-managing agency. 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 Park Service 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, revise legally-insufficient wilderness assessments 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: 

1. 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.

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

2. 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.

3. Restore 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. Today, NPS lacks a comprehensive overview of its wilderness needs. In its place, inertia and internal obstruction now constitute the agency wilderness posture.

The Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964. After a half-century, the wilderness structure of the national park system remains 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. Take Action by urging the Interior Secretary to implement the unfinished wilderness mandate in our national park system.


Thirteen years ago, the late and sorely-missed Wes Henry, the NPS Wilderness Coordinator, asked for a report documenting the unfinished wilderness agenda of the parks.   Frank Buono, an NPS retiree and PEER Board Chair, produced the original report as a contractor for the NPS.   He has updated and expanded it periodically to commemorate Wes’ devotion to wilderness in the nation’s parks

This web-center displays definitive detail about wilderness review throughout the national park system.   But no one person or group can keep abreast of all the events involving park wilderness – designated, recommended, proposed, or an ignored and forgotten roadless area  People having knowledge of errors or incompleteness of information on this site should please notify us at info@peer.org.


                                                                                                August 2014